Three of the eight goals are health-related. Goal 4 commits to reducing child mortality by two-thirds, while Goal 5 commits to improving maternal health and Goal 6 commits to combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases. With only five years left before the deadline South Africa and the rest of the world are racing against time to make progress. In September, world leaders will meet at a special United Nations summit in New York to review their efforts. As the clock is ticking, South Africa’s Health Minister, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, has taken to heart how many of the health challenges we have in the country affect women and children disproportionately.
‘HIV and AIDS, TB and Malaria do affect women and children more than any sector and is wreaking havoc on the lives of our mothers and children’, Motsoaledi said.
‘The Millennium Development Goal # 5 seeks to reduce by three-quarters the maternal mortality ratio by 2015. We, in South Africa have not given up hope, and instead, we are preparing to move up to the highest gear to ensure that we do achieve this goal by 2015. We are actually re-focusing all our departmental programmes to be centred around the Maternal, Child and Women’s Health Unit. We are putting up plans for strengthening this unit because the health of mothers and children directly affects the future and the development programme of the nation’, he continued.
The Health Department’s own National Committee on Confidential Enquiry into Maternal Health, which seeks to identify what causes maternal deaths, shows that an overwhelming majority of maternal deaths is due to HIV and AIDS.
‘It was found that while 54% of these deaths are due to a variety of causes ‘ many of them, of course, preventable ‘ a whopping 46% alone is due to HIV and AIDS’, said Motsoaledi.
Another Health Department report, ‘Saving Babies’, confirms that, just like their mothers, babies and children also succumb to HIV and AIDS. This has implications for the country’s ability to prevent infant mortality, which is covered in MDG Goal # 4.
‘We are having 20 000 still-births in South Africa every year. The number of neo-nates – the new-borns – who die before their first year has reached 22 000. The number who die before they reach five years has reached 75 000 and 43% of these deaths, the contributing factor, is HIV and AIDS, and we believe we should not only try to decrease the issue of mother-to-child transmission, but we should try to eradicate it altogether. This should be achievable in the next five years’, said Health Minister, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi.
In April, South Africa introduced new and better guidelines for the prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmission and the treatment of people co-infected with HIV and TB. More people are now accessing preventative and life-prolonging medicines. But more still needs to be done to reach those left out of the system.
Executive Director of the Global Fund to fight AIDS, TB and Malaria, Professor Michel Kazatchkine, urged South Africa to step up its efforts. Kazatchkine urged South Africa to remember the pleas made by the late child activist Nkosi Johnson and Constitutional Court Judge, Edwin Cameron as well as former president, Nelson Mandela, at the 13th International AIDS Conference in Durban in 2000, when they asked for a better response to HIV and AIDS, which is covered in MDG # 6.
‘I remember Nkosi Johnson who spoke in the stadium at the opening ceremony and gave a face and a voice to children living with HIV. I remember Judge Edwin Cameron who urged us to, quote: ‘Make the future different’. And, of course, I remember vividly President Mandela who spoke passionately about the fact that something needs to be done, quote: ‘As a matter of greatest urgency’, said Kazatchkine.
‘So, ten years later, let us not forget these words. Let us not forget that only half of the patients in urgent need have access to life-saving treatment; that access to prevention measures remains too limited; and that human rights abuses against people living with HIV and most at risk groups of the population continue. Let us, therefore, also resolve to follow through on what Nkosi Johnson, Edwin Cameron and Nelson Mandela asked us to do’, he urged.
Together with AIDS, combating malaria forms the basis of the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goal # 6. In its response to Malaria, South Africa has partnered with eight countries in the southern African region to form E8 or Elimination 8. The eight countries have vowed that, at least, by 2020 they should have eliminated malaria from the SADC community. The road still to be traveled to achieving these goals is not too long. One of the key determinants for success is finance. There is concern that African governments will not attain these objectives as the global community is shrinking their aid to poor countries. Poor countries themselves are spending too little on their health programmes.