“This week, urgently needed food — 33,700 tons of sorghum from American farmers — will depart the United States for West Africa, as a part of the U.S. Government’s response to the drought in the Sahel,” Dina Esposito, director of the Office of Food for Peace, writes in this post in USAID’s “Impact” blog. She says that in addition to food aid, “USAID is also focusing on improving nutrition, increasing agricultural production, linking individuals to local markets through voucher programs, rehabilitating public infrastructure through cash-for-work schemes, and mitigating conflict, among other activities,” with the aim of “alleviat[ing] poverty and build[ing] community resilience to withstand future shocks” (3/30).
“Millions of people in Africa’s turbulent Sahel region are on the brink of starvation due to drought and conflict, the United Nations said on Wednesday, and aid response plans are less than 40 percent funded ahead of an expected crisis peak,” Reuters reports (3/29). Following a week-long trip to Niger, Burkina Faso and Mauritania, John Ging, director of operations at the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said, “This is already an appalling crisis in terms of the scale and degree of human suffering and it will get worse unless the response plans are properly funded. … It’s a matter of life or death for millions who are on the brink,” according to the U.N. News Centre. “More than 15 million people in the Sahel are directly affected by worsening food shortages and malnutrition brought on by the ongoing drought, which has been compounded by conflict and insecurity,” the news service writes, noting that Ging added, “More than 200,000 children died of malnutrition last year and over one million are threatened with severe acute malnutrition right now” (3/28).
UNAIDS and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) Agency on Tuesday “signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) calling for strategic collaboration to advance sustainable responses to HIV, health and development across the African continent,” according to a UNAIDS press release. “Under the terms of the agreement, UNAIDS and the NEPAD Agency will work with partners to: support the development of common African positions for the AIDS response, with an emphasis on sustainable financing; address constraints in access to HIV medicines; facilitate policies and partnerships to eliminate new HIV infections in children and improve the health of mothers; enhance country ownership and accountability; and encourage South-South cooperation,” the press release states (3/27).
The results of a study (.pdf) published in Malaria Journal “suggest that funding for malaria prevention in Africa over the past decade has had a substantial impact on decreasing child deaths due to malaria,” according to the study’s abstract. Between 2001 and 2011, malaria prevention intervention scale-up helped prevent an estimated 842,800 malaria-related child deaths, an 8.2 percent decrease over the period had malaria intervention remained unchanged since 2000. The researchers note that 99 percent of the decline can be attributed to the use of insecticide-treated bednets. “Rapidly achieving and then maintaining universal coverage of these interventions should be an urgent priority for malaria control programs in the future,” the study concludes (Eisele et al., 3/28).
Speaking at an event where South African Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe urged the mining industry to take greater steps to address tuberculosis (TB) and HIV among its employees, Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu “announced that mining companies, whose HIV, TB and workplace safety policies are being audited by her department, will have to submit their policies as a prerequisite for renewing their mining licenses,” PlusNews reports. “According to Shabangu, South Africa’s mining sector sees three times as many cases of active TB as the general population,” the news service writes.
Instability and insecurity in some West and Central African nations are threatening the success of a 20-country polio vaccination campaign, which aims to immunize 111.1 million children against the disease, IRIN reports. Ongoing insurgent attacks threaten the campaign in Nigeria, the region’s only polio-endemic country and home to 57.7 million of the children targeted, the news service notes. Parts of Mali, Niger, and Chad also pose security problems for health care workers trying to access children in remote or disputed areas, according to IRIN. “Human error and weak health systems also play an important role in sub-optimal immunization reach,” the news service writes, noting so far, “only Ghana, Cape Verde, Burkina Faso, Gambia, and Togo have achieved the required 90 percent coverage, according to UNICEF” (3/23).
According to a report (.pdf) drafted by the U.N. Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) and the African Union (A.U.) Commission that reviews the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for Africa, the continent recorded a slight drop in infant, child, and maternal mortality in 2011, PANA/Afrique en ligne reports. Released at a conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on Thursday, the report showed that while North African nations are making good progress on maternal, infant, and child mortality indicators, countries in sub-Saharan Africa still lag behind U.N. goals for reducing mortality, the news service reports. In sub-Saharan Africa, the under-five mortality rate fell from 174 per 1,000 live births in 1990 to 121 per 1,000 live births in 2009, and at least 24 nations in the region had a maternal mortality rate above 500 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2008, according to PANA (3/23).
“To break free of its dependence on donor money and supplies from India, Africa must develop its own pharmaceutical pipeline by creating policy frameworks that encourage a fledgling drug industry,” journalist Priya Shetty argues in this SciDev.Net opinion piece. “Although India’s drug industry continues to churn out generics against killer diseases such as HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, there is no end to resistance from global pharmaceutical companies wanting to extend the duration of market exclusivity on their brand-name drugs to prevent competition from generics,” she writes, and notes, “The Council on Health Research for Development (COHRED) forum, to be held in South Africa in April 2012, will discuss how resource-poor nations can become more self-sufficient.”
“Some 111.1 million children below the age of five are to be vaccinated against polio in a synchronized campaign covering 20 countries in West and Central Africa starting on Friday,” the WHO and UNICEF said in a joint statement on Wednesday, PANA reports (3/21). The campaign, which will last for four days, “is intended to serve as a massive boost in efforts to eradicate the disease, and will involve national health ministries and U.N. agencies, as well as tens of thousands of volunteers who will go from door-to-door immunizing children,” the U.N. News Centre writes (3/21).
Political Instability, Humanitarian Crises Reversing Maternal Health Gains In Africa, Health Experts Warn
“Political instability, civil strife and humanitarian crises in Africa have over the past decades reversed countless maternal health development gains on the continent, health experts warn,” Inter Press Service reports. “‘African countries with good maternal health statistics are generally those that have long-term political stability. This shows that stability is a fundamental basis for development. If it doesn’t exist, other priorities overtake,’ Lucien Kouakou, regional director of the International Planned Parenthood Foundation (IPPF) in Africa, told IPS,” the news service writes.