Africa can overcome dramatic public health crisis with international support – UN report

20 November 2006

While Africa confronts the world’s most dramatic public health crisis, it can over time meet the challenges, given sufficient international support, according to first-ever report to focus on the health of the 738 million people living in the United Nations health agency’s African Region, released today.

While Africa confronts the world’s most dramatic public health crisis, it can over time meet the challenges, given sufficient international support, according to first-ever report to focus on the health of the 738 million people living in the United Nations health agency’s African Region, released today.

“Every year millions of Africans are dying needlessly of diseases that are preventable and treatable,” UN World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director Luis Gomes Sambo said of the study, The Health of the People: the African Regional Health Report.

“The vast majority of people living in Africa have yet to benefit from advances in medical research and public health. The result is an immense burden of death and disease that is devastating for African societies,” he added of the report, which looks at HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, and pregnancy-related conditions that kill mothers and babies.

It also highlights the lesser known problems of chronic diseases, such as diabetes and hypertension, and other non-communicable conditions, such as mental illness and injuries.

“The challenge for African governments and their partners is to coordinate the provision of health care more effectively than ever before, and to ensure that all funds are used in an accountable manner to the benefit of the African people,” Mr. Gomes Sambo said.

WHO’s African Region has 46 Member States, covering all parts of the continent except Djibouti, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Somalia, Sudan, Tunisia and Western Sahara.

The report says its central message is clear: “African countries will not develop economically and socially without substantial improvements in the health of their

people. The health-care interventions – treatments, diagnostic and preventive methods – that are needed in this Region are known. The challenge for African countries and their partners is to deliver these to the people who need them.”

On the positive side, the report notes that there are signs everywhere that Africa is finding African approaches to solving its health problems. In Uganda, 50 per cent of all HIV/AIDS patients have been reached with life-saving antiretroviral medicine through an innovative programme that trains nurses to do work traditionally done by doctors.

The number of HIV-positive people on antiretroviral medicines across the Region increased eight-fold, from 100,000 in December 2003 to 810,000 in December 2005.

In Mali, community cost-sharing schemes have provided 35 of the country’s 57 community health centres with staff trained to deliver babies and perform emergency caesarian sections, making skilled obstetric care available to thousands of women who could not previously afford it.

In Rwanda, a police-led road safety campaign, including fines for not wearing seatbelts or helmets, led to drop of nearly one quarter in traffic injury deaths in a single year.

In South Africa, a health-care train routinely transports young doctors and final-year medical students to isolated farming areas that would otherwise have no access to basic medical services, so far providing health care 500,000 people and health screening and education to 800,000 more.

River blindness has been eliminated as a health problem in the region, and guinea worm control efforts have slashed cases by 97 per cent since 1986. Leprosy is near elimination, with less than one case per 10,000 people. And most States are making good progress on preventable childhood illness, with polio close to eradication, and 37 countries reaching 60 per cent or more of children with measles immunization.

But the report also provides the measure of the challenges Africa faces. HIV/AIDS continues to devastate the Region, which has 11 per cent of the world’s population but 60 per cent of people with HIV/AIDS. And more than 90 per cent of the estimated 300 million to 500 million malaria cases worldwide each year are in Africa, mainly children under five years of age, although most countries are moving towards better treatment policies, including artemisinin-based combination therapy.

 

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