WHO regional conf opens in Harare

who_logoAs the World Health Organization First Annual Regional Conference on Immunization went into full swing in Harare on Monday, most stakeholders expressed concern on the high numbers of child deaths and the high sero-prevalence rate of HIV in the African region.

WHO regional Director Dr Luis Gomes Sambo said at the official opening of the conference that though there have been positive developments in the fight against high child mortality in Africa, the continent still contributes more than 50% of the fewer than 5 child deaths worldwide.

“Under 5 mortality rate in sub-Saharan Africa declined from 184 per 1 000 in 1990 to 144 in 2008. Despite this progress, sub-Saharan Africa still accounted for 51% of all under 5 deaths globally in 2008,” said Dr Sambo.

He however regretted the fact that Africa is still far from achieving the Millennium Development Goal number four (MDG4) which focuses on reducing child mortality.

“The decline in Childhood deaths in sub-Saharan Africa is still inadequate to achieve MDG4 by 2015.Increasing access to Expanded Program on Immunization (EPI) as well as to new vaccines is essential in accelerating progress towards MDG4,” he said.

Dr Sambo’s sentiments have also been echoed in his organisation’s report of

2009-2013 strategic plan on the Immunization and Vaccine Development Programme (IVD) which states that the continent is dismally failing to meet the MDGs before the deadline.

“Africa as a whole is behind schedule in meeting the MDGs to reduce child mortality, improve maternal health and combat infectious diseases (i.e., MDGs 4, 5 and 6). Yet, experiences from other continents, as well as recent progress in several countries in the region, prove that the goals can be achieved across Africa,” says the report.

It is then shocking and surprising to note that Africa has failed to meet this target when other continents and counties in the region are meeting them. Should the blame be placed on poor public health policy systems across the continent or should the African politicians take this blame for regional conflict leading to resources being spent on preserving political power than for public benefit?

Zimbabwe’s Health Minister Dr Henry Madzorera indicated in his speech at the same conference said his country is overwhelmed by the prevalence of communicable diseases such as HIV.

“Like in many of the countries in the region, communicable diseases continue to be a major public health concern in Zimbabwe which has one of the highest sero-prevalence rates of HIV and is among the highest TB burdened countries of the world,” said Dr Madzorera.

He also highlighted the need to improve the country’s disease surveillance system to avoid loss of human life giving last year’s cholera outbreak as the justification for the move.

“Our counties in the region are prone to outbreaks such as malaria and cholera. The later, which used to occur in ten-year circles in Zimbabwe, has been occurring annually since 1998. From August 2008 to July 2009 the country experienced its worst cholera outbreak with 98,592 cases and more than 4,000 deaths reported.

“However we still need to improve our disease surveillance systems which are currently faced with human resources constrains, poor communication networks and limited utilisation of data collected,” he said.

The country according to figures released by the Central Statistics Office

(CSO) in November, infant and under five mortality rates of 65 per 1 000 live births and 90 per 1 000 children under the age of five respectively were recorded. The report further states that only 49% of children aged

12-23 months are fully immunized with 16% of children under five years of age category is on antibiotic treatment for suspected pneumonia.

The chairperson of the Taskforce on Immunization in Africa Professor Peter Ndumbe however urged governments to honour the African Charter on Rights and Welfare of the Child which entered into force 10 years ago.

“We should not get accustomed to the injustices done to children and must join in current efforts to revive the primary Health Care reforms and the development of the health systems as vehicles for both the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals and the sustainability of whatever gains we may achieve through immunization,” he said.

Zimbabwe is rated as one of the countries in the world with a poor human rights record and a declining public health service that is a result of the mass exodus of skilled human resources for greener pastures following the country’s unstable political and economic situation over the last decade.

The immunization conference has been attended by other African Health Ministers from Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, Chad and Nigeria and is expected to end on the Thursday 17 December 2009.

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