|NPI/UNICEF/WHO, Abuja, 2 February 2005 |
Polio eradication and health issues in Africa were a high priority for African Heads of State at the Fourth Ordinary Session of the African Union which held in Abuja from 30 to 31 January 2005. His Excellency, the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and Chairman of the African Union, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo led other African leaders in the discussions on polio. Nigeria has the highest number of polio cases in the world It recorded a total of 783 wild polio viruses in 2004.Leaders of polio-affected countries at the meeting acknowledged that their commitment and oversight were critical to eradicating polio from Africa by end-2005. High level political commitment is the only way to ensure all children are vaccinated during polio immunization campaigns.Recognizing the difficulties posed by conflicts, President Obasanjo called for ceasefire during polio National Immunization Days (NIDs) to ensure that all children are reached during such periods. With the recent spread of polio from Nigeria to other parts of Africa, President Obasanjo personally apologised to countries that were adversely affected by the polio exportation. He assured the world that the problems had been resolved and that Nigeria would work towards the goal of stopping polio transmission by the end of 2005.To ensure that this is achieved, the country has planned five rounds of NIDs and one sub-national campaign for the year. These would take place from 26th February – 1st March; 9th – 12th April; 14th – 17th May (with Vitamin A); 6th – 9th August (SNIDs); 17th – 20th September (with Vitamin A) and 12th – 15th November.
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Top Priority For African Leaders
There is a clear and urgent need for health issues in Africa. The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that AIDS will become the diseases of the decade. Leaders in the field of health and development have set a number of priorities for African countries. The following highlights some of the top health issues in Africa.
Polio eradication. Polio is the most common disability affecting children in sub-Saharan Africa. Since 1990, the number of children who have died from diseases caused by fleas, lice and ticks has more than quadrupled. Building regional solidarity with other countries facing similar problems is a top priority for African governments and non-government organizations working on health issues in Africa. The African Union has also announced a special team of envoys from Rwanda, Nigeria, South Africa, Mauritius and Ivory Coast to solicit assistance as promised by the EU, WHO and other international agencies.
Continent-wide drought. Africa is facing an unprecedented drought, with areas in the western part of the continent in particular experiencing severe water shortages that have threatened the sustainability of food supplies. The lack of available agricultural land for farming has meant that crop production has fallen by up to 30%. The International Food Program has warned that in the next five years, the global food crisis could lead to a catastrophic decline in agricultural output that could lead to higher food prices, poverty and conflict.
Improved health and hygiene. Like the rest of the world, Africa is experiencing an increased rate of HIV/AIDS infection. By the end of the next decade, if current trends are anything to go by, the continent could be hit by a pandemic that will be unprecedented in its history. To prevent the spread of epidemics, a greater effort from governments, NGOs and religious and medical institutions will be required to address the problem of health and hygiene in the continent.
Political stability. Leaders from Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia have all refused to accept power based on the results of polls, fearing that they will be excluded from future elections due to widespread corruption and nepotism. In response to this crisis, the World Bank and the United Nations Security Council have called for new constitutional arrangements that will guarantee fair and free elections. The political turbulence in Africa is a key factor contributing to a resurgence in crime and insecurity, such as what we see in the Congo and the Central African Republic. The political turmoil in Africa also provides a weak barrier to trade which will come to a sudden halt if the economic conditions deteriorate.
Political stability is also needed to implement programmes that can address the pandemic. The successful management of the current outbreak of the AIDS pandemic requires a functioning political system. Without stable governments and the rule of law there will be increased impunity for criminals and increased risk of insecurity for communities and households. There are many programs designed to address the challenges associated with the pandemic, with a priority being education and social protection. Education is an essential tool in addressing the challenges of the pandemic because the most affected communities are the ones with low income, lack access to health services and a limited knowledge about health and nutrition. Without a robust health education system and an increase in the access to quality health services, there will be a resurgence in epidemics.
Arbitration and quarantine. The successful management of the pandemic has to include measures to manage the epidemics before it breaks out. This is done by creating a buffer zone around affected areas so that there is no possible return of the epidemic. This containment was seen as a hindrance to trade in some southern African countries like South Africa who were forced to implement quarantine measures to stop the spread of swine flu and Rift Valley fever. However, the quarantine measures were too strict and led to the reintroduction of the epidemic in the following months.
Political stabilization. Controlling the epidemic and containing it require African countries to stabilize their political systems and strengthen their public health services. This has been seen as a hindrance to development in many African countries including South Africa, who have been hampered by political instability. There have been debates on the role of the united states and the impact on the interstate travel of persons since the inception of the pandemic; however, it is likely that political stability will be one of the top priorities for African leaders to address.