Africa is developing solutions for fighting disease and improving health

The signs are everywhere, across the continent: Africa is finding African approaches to solving its health problems.

In Uganda, 50 percent of all HIV/AIDS patients have been reached with life-saving antiretroviral medicine through an innovative programme that trains nurses to do some of the work traditionally done by doctors and community health workers to take on some of the work of nurses.

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, which has included introduction of fines for failure to wear seatbelts or helmets, resulted in a drop of nearly one quarter in the number of deaths from road traffic injuries in a single year.

And 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. To date the train has provided health care to half a million people and health screening and education to an additional 800 000.

These steps forward and others chronicled in The African Regional Health Report: The Health of the People -- the first report to focus on the health of the 738 million people living in the African Region of the World Health Organization -- offer hope that over time the Region can address the massive health challenges it faces, given sufficient international support.

"Africa confronts the world's most dramatic public health crisis, but this report shows there are public health solutions that work in the African setting. These can be extended to all Africans in need, if governments build on lessons learnt from successful interventions while seeking better coordination with the efforts of international partners", said Alpha Oumar Konaré, Chairman of the Commission of the African Union.

The Report provides a comprehensive analysis of key public health issues and progress made on them in the Africa Region.

  • HIV/AIDS continues to devastate the WHO Africa Region, which has 11% of the world's population but 60% of the people living with HIV. Although HIV/AIDS remains the leading cause of death for adults, more and more people are receiving life-saving treatment. The number of HIV-positive people on antiretroviral medicines increased eight-fold, to 810 000 in December 2005 from 100 000 in December 2003.
  • More than 90% of the estimated 300–500 million malaria cases that occur worldwide every year are in Africans, mainly in children under five years of age, but most countries are moving towards better treatment policies. Of the 42 malaria-endemic countries in the African Region, 33 have adopted artemisinin-based combination therapy--the most effective antimalarial medicines available today--as first-line treatment.
  • River blindness has been eliminated as a public health problem, and guinea worm control efforts have resulted in a 97% reduction in cases since 1986. Leprosy is close to elimination--defined as less than one case per 10 000 people in the Region.
  • Most countries are making good progress on preventable childhood illness. Polio is close to eradication, and 37 countries are reaching 60% or more of their children with measles immunization. Overall measles deaths have declined by more than 50% since 1999. In 2005 alone 75 million children received measles vaccines.

While drawing the world's attention to recent successes, the Report offers a candid appraisal of major hurdles, such as the high rate of maternal and newborn mortality overall in the Region. Of the 20 countries with the highest maternal mortality ratios worldwide, 19 are in Africa; and the Region has the highest neonatal death rate in the world. Then there is the strain on African health systems imposed by the high burden of life-threatening communicable diseases coupled with increasing rates of noncommunicable diseases. Basic sanitation needs remain unmet for many: only 58% of people living in sub-Saharan Africa have access to safe water supplies. Noncommunicable diseases, such as hypertension, heart disease and diabetes are on the rise; and injuries remain among the top causes of death in the Region.

"We know what the challenges are, and we know how to address them--but we also recognize that Africa's fragile health systems represent an enormous barrier to wider application of the solutions highlighted in this report. If we are to continue moving forward, African governments and their partners must make a major commitment and invest more funds to strengthen health systems," said Dr Luis Gomes Sambo, Regional Director of the WHO Regional Office for Africa.

For more information contact:

Addis Ababa
Sam Ajibola
Communications Officer, Regional Office for Africa
Mobile phone: +242 653 7022
E-mail: [email protected]

Iain Simpson
Communications Officer, WHO Geneva
Mobile phone: +4179 475 5534
E-mail: [email protected]

Judith Mandelbaum-Schmid
Communications Officer, WHO Geneva
Mobile phone: +41 79 254 6835
E-mail: [email protected]


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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