By Gospel Mwalwanda in New York, NY, USA
Malawi President Ngwazi Dr Bingu wa Mutharika on Wednesday reaffirmed his government’s total commitment to promoting women and children’s health.
Dr Mutharika said the greatest challenge his county and the African continent faced was to ensure safe motherhood and survival of the child when it was born, adding that a child was a present from God.
“Its arrival should be a pleasant experience. It should not be a death penalty for the mother. I think that is the premise on which we really need to start,” he said.
Dr Mutharika was speaking at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, NY, USA, at a high level meeting of the Task Force on Innovative Financing.
The meeting was convened by British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, and the Malawian leader was one of the invited Heads of States and Government who addressed the higher level gathering.
Other leaders from developing countries who spoke at the function highlighting what their countries were doing to promote maternal and child health included Ghana’s President John Atta Mills, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, and Ethiopia’s Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi.
Dr Mutharika said on the part of Malawi, the country had made a lot of progress in the provision of health services to its citizens with particular focus on reducing maternal and child mortality.
He said Malawi was providing free health services free of charge at all government-owned hospitals, and that in addition, in 2004 the country signed an agreement with church-owned health facilities to remove user fees for women and children when they were treated in those hospitals.
Dr Mutharika said: “Malawi has also reduced child mortality from 133 for every 1,000 birth to 122 for every 1,000 births respectively. We have substantially reduced maternal mortality from 984 per 100000 to 807 in every 100, 000 births in less than four years.”
Each year, more than half a million women die in pregnancy or childbirth in developing countries, and some nine million children die before their fifth birthday, including nearly four million deaths from preventable and treatable illnesses such as pneumonia and diarrhea.
It is expected that by 2015, an additional 234 million births will be taking place facilities that provide care for both normal and complicated births, and that there will be 276 additional women receiving quality antenatal care visits.
It is expected that by 2015 an additional 234 million women and newborn babies will be expected to receive quality postnatal care, and that there will be an additional 2.5 million health care professional and one million additional community health workers towards the World Health Organization’s target of at least 2.3 health workers per 1, 000 of population.
“In the next five years, my government will build on this progress and recommit itself to improve health services to prevent at least 20,000 children from dying each year,” Dr Mutharika said.
He said the Malawi government also committed itself to reduce maternal deaths by 2000 women each year, and would continue to provide access to free health services to an estimated 860 000 additional Malawians including 80000 expectant mothers.
Each year, more than half a million women worldwide die in pregnancy or childbirth and some nine million children die before their fifth birthday, including nearly four million deaths from preventable and treatable illnesses such as pneumonia and diarrhoea.
“My government will continue to provide universal access to antiretroviral [ARV drugs] to 363, 000 people living with HIV free of charge but also increase the prevention of mother to child transmission for those who are pregnant but are found to HIV positive,” Dr Mutharika said.
An estimated one million people in Malawi are living with HIV, the virus that causes Aids which has claimed lives of more than half a million people since the first Aids case was detected in 1985.
However, the free ART programme has significantly reduced Aids-related deaths.
The Malawian leader told the gathering his government would increase human resources to ensure that they have adequate knowledge to deal with cases, particularly at the village.
He said the biggest challenge the country had at the moment was the long distance women had to travel to go to an antenatal clinic, “in some cases as far away as 12 to 15 km away…these are the challenges we are facing. We are increasing the number of clinics with maternity facilities.”
“We will also ensure that we have a continuous supply of drugs and equipment as well as the supply of long lasting insecticide-treated mosquito bed nets essential drugs. To date, Malawi has distributed more than six million bed nets, especially to mothers and children.”
Ngwazi Dr Bingu wa Mutharika, who is in New York to attend the 64th UN General Assembly and addressed the assembly on Thursday, said his government would expand the service agreement to make sure that every health facility in Malawi was accessible to women.
“Malawi will join the international health partnership in preparing for the second phase of the sector wide approach. We believe we have the chance to implement the Millennium Development Goal in this regard. We need support to meet this goal.”
Prime Minister Brown and World Bank President Robert Zoellick co-chaired the meeting which marks the culmination of a year’s work by the Taskforce on Innovative Financing for Health Systems which Brown and Zoellick launched last year.
The meeting highlighted the need for stronger, better financed health systems and a better access to health services for women and children-Mana/Malawi Digest.