It is common to hear officials from countries and international agencies talk about the multiple challenges that impede intersectoral work for health. The concern is valid: while ministries of health and related institutions are organized and funded to improve the “health” of the population, other ministries do not have such a mandate. In most cases, this has led to a certain paralysis characterized by lofty aspirations in the health sector about the potential benefits of intersectoral action, but with little collaboration and action involving other sectors.
Start-up eHealth innovations are popping up all over Africa, providing a glimpse of how ICTs can transform the delivery and governance of health services in the region. Many of these pilots show promise, but their rapid growth also poses challenges: At an eHealth conference held in Nairobi in May and co-organized by the World Bank, health professionals and development partners discussed how to identify the best of these evolving tools and bring them to scale.
The scaling up of voluntary medical male circumcision, particularly in high HIV prevalence settings, is a highly cost-effective intervention to fight the epidemic—randomized controlled trials have found a 60% protective effect against HIV for men who became circumcised.
But, the supply of this medical service is just one part of the picture. Without active involvement from individuals and communities to deal with social and cultural factors that influence service acceptability, the demand for this common surgical procedure will be low.
Indeed, on a recent visit to Botswana, a country with high HIV prevalence and low levels of male circumcision, my World Bank colleagues and I had a good discussion with the National HIV/AIDS Commission about ways to address the low uptake of voluntary, safe male circumcision services in spite of a well-funded program by the government. It was obvious to all that if the demand for, and uptake of, this service were not strengthened through creative mechanisms that foster acceptance, ownership, and active participation of individuals and community organizations, the program would not help control the spread of HIV through increased funding of facilities, equipment, and staff alone.
So, what do we need to do to ensure that need, demand, utilization, and supply of services are fully aligned to improve health conditions?
New estimates released today by the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), and the World Bank show that the number of women dying due to complications in pregnancy and childbirth has almost halved in 20 years—from more than 540,000 in 1990 to less than 290,000 in 2010.
This is good news, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. While substantial progress has been achieved at the global level, many countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, will still fail to reach the Millennium Development Goal (MDG 5) target of reducing maternal mortality by 75% from 1990 to 2015.
This year, on World Malaria Day, April 25, the global health community has reason to celebrate. Indeed, thanks to substantial investments from partners and countries over the last decade, the scorecard on malaria reports good news: a reduction of more than 50% in confirmed malaria cases or malaria admissions and deaths in recent years in at least 11 countries south of the Sahara, and in 32 endemic countries outside of Africa. Overall, the number of deaths due to malaria is estimated to have decreased from 985,000 in 2000 to 655,000 in 2010.
The fact that an estimated 1.1 million African children were saved from the deadly grip of malaria over the last decade is an extraordinary achievement. By the end of 2010, a total of 289 million insecticide-treated nets were delivered to sub-Saharan Africa, enough to cover 76% of the 765 million persons at risk.
Over the past 5 years, four countries were certified as having eliminated malaria: Morocco, Turkmenistan, the UAE and Armenia. In southern Africa, health ministers of eight countries -- Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Angola, Mozambique, Zambia, Zimbabwe--have developed a regional strategy to progress towards E8 malaria elimination status.
I recently attended a community paralegal training on promoting accountability in health care delivery in Makeni, Sierra Leone. During the training, a community paralegal named Elizabeth Massalay talked about bringing her niece to a clinic in Moyamba district to receive immunizations that the government provides free of charge thanks to the Free Health Care Initiative (FHCI), which offers free health services to pregnant and breastfeeding women and children under five. Mothers queued for free immunizations, painting a hopeful picture for a country that ranks 180 out of 187 in the 2011 Human Development Index and where almost one in three children die before reaching the age of five.
However, against this promising backdrop, Elizabeth saw that the nurse was demanding six cups of rice from each mother before providing the immunization. Elizabeth was witnessing how breakdowns within state institutions—including absent nurses, improper user fees, and “leakage” of up to 30% of FHCI drugs (according to government and UNICEF statistics)—undermine health care delivery. Responding to such breakdowns requires an understanding of health policy and regulations—what the state must provide and to whom—and knowing where and how to apply pressure when the state fails to do so.
Il y a quelque temps, je suis parti en mission visiter un nouvel hôpital au Lesotho. Je savais que cet établissement était destiné à accueillir des patients atteints de tuberculose multi-résistante et je sais aussi le lourd tribut que la co-infection VIH-tuberculose fait payer au pays. Je m’attendais donc à ce que les caractéristiques démographiques des patients correspondent à celle du VIH : essentiellement des patients jeunes, et de plus en plus de femmes.
Mais je n’étais pas préparé à voir deux familles entières, jeunes et vieux, hommes, femmes et enfants, confinées ensemble pour un certain temps, sous la surveillance de professionnels de santé veillant à ce que tous prennent bien leurs doses quotidiennes de médicaments.
Hace un tiempo, formé parte de una misión que debía visitar un nuevo hospital en Lesotho. Me advirtieron de antemano que el propósito de estas instalaciones era atender a las personas que sufren de tuberculosis (TB) multirresistente a los medicamentos, y conociendo la inmensa carga de coinfecciones de VIH y TB en el país, esperaba que el perfil demográfico de los pacientes fuera similar al del VIH: en su mayoría jóvenes y cada vez más mujeres.
Para lo que no estaba preparado era para encontrarme con dos familias enteras —jóvenes y viejos, hombres, mujeres y niños— confinados juntos en el futuro inmediato para ser observados por trabajadores de la salud mientras toman sus medicamentos diariamente.
A while ago, I was part of a mission to visit a new hospital in Lesotho. Warned in advance that this facility was intended to treat people with multi-drug resistant tuberculosis (TB)– and knowing the huge burden of HIV-TB co-infection in the country—I was expecting the patients’ demographic to match the profile of HIV: largely young and increasingly female.
What I wasn’t prepared for was the sight of two entire families—young and old, men, women and children—all confined together for the foreseeable future, to be monitored by health workers as they take their daily drugs.