April 15, 2024

Beyond awareness: World Health Day tackles unmet needs in HIV fight

Beyond awareness: World Health Day tackles unmet needs in HIV fight

* More women, children now surviving — WHO

By Chioma Obinna

 On this year’s World Health Day, the World Health Organisation,WHO, has raised the alarm that the number of people aged 15 and above living with HIV was still high, with an estimated 24.3 million in 2021 (3.4  percent of the total population) compared to 15.6 million in 2005 even as it said, there has been significant progress in ensuring better health for people in the African region over the past decade, with more mothers and children surviving than before.

In a message by the WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti to mark this year’s World Health Day, and end the year-long commemoration of its 75th Anniversary noted that the high number reflects the continued transmission of HIV despite reductions in the incidence of people newly infected and the benefits of significantly expanded access to antiretrovirals.

Moeti noted that the disparities in the coverage of key reproductive, maternal, newborn, child, and adolescent health interventions remain significant, with the rural dweller, the poor, and those in hard-to-reach areas being the most disadvantaged.

She further lamented that about 8 percent of the population in the African Region is still experiencing catastrophic health expenditures.

Urging Member States to uphold the progress towards fulfilling the right to health, agreed upon by all nations of the world in 1948 and enshrined in the WHO Constitution, she said: “the right to health is a universal right of all human beings, regardless of race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth, or another status.”

She said while their year-long commemoration, which started in 2023 had been a season rich in festivities and reflections, they have looked back on public health successes that have improved the quality of life of populations during the last seven decades and summoned the energy to tackle the health challenges of the next 75 years.

Noting that the 2024 theme was: “My Health, My Right”, she said member states have made significant progress in ensuring better health outcomes for the people over the past decade as more mothers and children are surviving than before.

She said: “From 2000 to 2020, the life expectancy of African women increased from 54 to 67 years; the maternal mortality ratio decreased by 33 percent (from 788 to 531 maternal deaths per 100,000 lives), and the number of children dying before the age of 5 was reduced by 50 per cent from 2000 to 2017.

“Between 2011 and 2021, the number of new HIV infections and AIDS-related deaths decreased by 44 per cent and 55 per cent, respectively, across Africa, and the number of TB deaths decreased by 26 per cent. In addition, several diseases are on the verge of eradication and elimination, including polio, guinea worm disease, as well as maternal and neonatal tetanus.”

Moet further applauded member states’ efforts to accelerate progress towards Universal Health Coverage (UHC).

“They are reforming their health policies and revamping legislative and regulatory frameworks, including National Health Insurance Schemes (NHIS) and Social Health Insurance (SHI) schemes to reduce catastrophic out-of-pocket health expenditures.

“Several countries have started operationalizing an integrated Life Stages Approach, which prioritizes the health of individuals at every stage of their life and the care needed at any time. “Health is not only a fundamental human right but also central to peace and prosperity. Thus, addressing health inequities requires intentional efforts.”

She further noted that considerations of vulnerable groups must be assessed and that their needs ought to be purposefully integrated into health programmes at all levels to accelerate progress toward UHC.

“We know that many in our region still need help with access to quality essential health services due largely to unfulfilled rights. This is further compounded by protracted and ongoing crises such as conflicts, climate change, food insecurity, disease outbreaks, and epidemics”.

She said WHO would continue to work with all to strengthen health governance and combat discrimination and inequalities in health.  “We will continue to collaborate across sectors on bold solutions toward the universal coverage of high-quality health care for everyone, everywhere – because it is part of our human rights.”