2015 targets: Was Africa ambitious? Living with AIDS # 347

KHOPOTSO: The well-being of mothers and children is a marker for the health of a nation, say experts. Daisy Mafubelu is the Assistant Director-General of the World Health Organisation’€™s Family and Community Health Division.


DAISY MAFUBELU: The health of the children and the health of mothers will tell you much about how healthy a nation is.  


KHOPOTSO: In a bid to improve the well-being and health status of the world’€™s nations, most countries signed up to a set of eight goals that are part of a Millenium Declaration adopted by the United Nations in 2000. The commitments are called the Millenium Development Goals or MDGs. MDG 4 aims to reduce by two-thirds the number of children who die before they reach five years of life. MDG 5 aims to reduce by three quarters the number of women who die while pregnant or as a result of pregnancy. MDG 6 aims to halt and reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS, malaria and other related illnesses.  Mafubelu says many more mothers and children die in Africa than anywhere else in the world.  


DAISY MAFUBELU: One woman dies every minute due to maternal-related causes;   three million new-borns die within the first week of life; three million babies are born dead; almost 10 million children under five die; about half a million infants are infected with HIV; and 700 000 infants are born with congenital syphilis. This is what we are confronted with, globally.   And unfortunately, a large proportion of all these numbers is happening in sub-Saharan Africa.


KHOPOTSO: Showing a map, Mafubelu paints a bleak picture about Africa’€™s progress in preventing these deaths. Sixty-eight countries account for 97% of the world’€™s maternal, newborn and child deaths. HIV/AIDS is also a huge problem in these countries, most of which are in Africa.


DAISY MAFUBELU: As this slide can show, talking about MDG 4, 5 and 6 and using colour-coding – red meaning no progress or worse; amber meaning target is not likely to be reached by 2015; and green meaning that the target is likely to be reached by 2015 ‘€“ if you follow that colour coding on this chart, you would see that sub-Saharan Africa is red throughout for MDG 4, for MDG 5, also MDG 6’€¦


KHOPOTSO: Only North African is making some progress towards delivering on these goals. All signatories to the declaration, including South Africa, committed to achieving these goals by 2015.

The Cape Town conference will assess progress made and challenges encountered as 2015 is fast approaching. But countries south of the Sahara, led by South Africa, were perhaps a bit too ambitious when they committed to these goals. Thami Mseleku is the Director-General of South Africa’€™s national Department of Health.


THAMI MSELEKU: Unlike other people who believe that the race has started towards 2015 and, as a result there are all sorts of analyses and so-called analyses that actually begin to compare in that regard, we, in Africa, refuse to be compared that way. We are not actually racing against each other towards any finish line. But we are actually working with one another to ensure that we look at our challenges and how we can assist each other’€¦ And that is the message that we will be sending to the Thursday meeting, which talks about (the) count-down to 2015.


KHOPOTSO: The African Union held a workshop in Johannesburg early this week under the banner: ‘€œAfrica’€™s movement to Improve Maternal Health and Promote Child Survival and Development in Africa beyond 2015’€. This was to shape a common strategy for the Cape Town meeting. Health Minister, Dr Manto Tshabalala-Msimang does not accept that sub-Saharan Africa is not making progress towards achieving the Millenium Development Goals.


Dr MANTO TSHABALALA-MSIMANG: I think that’€™s too broad a sweeping statement because just to say sub-Saharan (Africa) is not counted already demoralises us right from the start’€¦ In spite of all the shortfalls and gaps, we must also pause to say: ‘€˜What are the good things that we are doing because there is life after 2015?’€™That’€™s not the cut-off point’€¦ I just want to know whether, in fact, there is no country that could be listed amongst the countries that are improving and would, therefore, be reaching the MDGs.                        


KHOPOTSO: The WHO’€™s Daisy Mafubelu said Tshabalala-Msimang’€™s question was relevant. She went on to explain that the research she presented did not reflect the status quo in specific countries, but rather it put all African countries in one basket.


DAISY MAFUBELU: What I’€™ve not mentioned is that as we go to the Countdown 2015, there will be a report that will be launched, ‘€œReport 2008’€. That report – unfortunately, I couldn’€™t say much about the contents of the report because it’€™s embargoed ‘€“ takes country by country and gives the status of each country and that will go to a large extent in really responding to the Honourable Minister’€™s question’€¦ So, these are really based on averages and if we were to break down, you would find that if you take indicator by indicator, there are countries in the African region that are actually meeting some of these indicators..            


KHOPOTSO: But both MDGs aimed at reducing child and maternal mortality will be hard to achieve without the realisation of the accompanying six goals contained in the Millenium Declaration. These address poverty, improving access to education, addressing gender disparities and reversing the spread of HIV/AIDS, malaria and other related illnesses.


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