Saturday, April 07, 2007

Good health is good for all

Good health is good for all
By Editor
Saturday April 07, 2007 [04:00]

As for many sectors in Zambia, an objective view on the country’s health status presents a picture of hopelessness. And as we commemorate World Health Day, which falls today, there are still numerous problems that remain unresolved or unattended to in our healthcare system.

First, the disease burden in the country remains gigantic. At the moment, diseases such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria are not relenting and they are taking a huge toll on the population. Malaria is still the largest single killer disease in Zambia. The rate of HIV infection in the country is still high at 16 per cent and many of those who need treatment are yet to access it.

Even as this is the case, we have continued to observe that the level of resources devoted to health care has been grossly inadequate to deal with the HIV/AIDS epidemic effectively. We also know that social stigmas surrounding AIDS keep many people from turning to the public health system for testing and treatment.

While a lot has been said about the need to improve maternal health care, in line with the fifth Millennium Development Goal (MDG), it is reported that Zambia’s maternal mortality ratio at the moment is 728 per 100,000 live births.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) resident representative in Zambia, Deji Poopola, is on record saying that Zambia’s maternal mortality rate ratio of 728 per 100,000 live births is among the highest in the region.

It is not a debatable question that Zambia needs a functioning public health system if we are to start getting healthcare services and medicines to the sick. Today the ratio of doctor-to-patient remains at undesirable levels.

There is also significant loss and pilferage of drugs or medicines since our storage and distribution systems are almost nonexistent or are poorly managed where they are present. In fact, the World Bank estimates that for every US$100 spent by African governments on drugs, only US$12 worth of medicine reaches patients. There is just too much corruption in the procurement and management of drugs in the country and there is evidence to this fact.

Another factor that should not be ignored in the provision of healthcare services is that of infrastructure. We should realise that we need to put up adequate infrastructure such as roads, transportation, electricity and clean water supply if we are to operate an effective healthcare system.

At the moment, most of the country’s health facilities are located in urban areas, far away from rural populations which are the most needy. Most of the health centres are not even accessible to large numbers of the population via public transportation due to poor infrastructure.

In rural areas, impassable roads and weak transportation systems continue to block patients, as well as health providers and medicines from reaching far-flung health facilities. Many rural areas do not have access to ambulances and we have seen people resorting to all forms of transportation which leave them at great risk as they cannot get to health centres in good time.

But we know that fundamental economic, social and political issues that our country faces have contributed to impeding access to healthcare services and medicines. To address the situation in the health sector, there is need for the government to start assigning a lot of priority to it. We need to start seeing a lot of political will from those in government if some of the problems faced in the health sector have to be dealt with. Although we cannot deny that the government has been making efforts to improve this sector, there is still a lot more work to be done.

We need to start promoting the justice of good health policies and adequate medicines accessible by all our people regardless of status. We do not have to emphasise the fact that there can be no future development without healthy citizens. We cannot claim to uphold the sanctity of life if there is no provision for minimum health care offered equitably to all our people.

As we commemorate this year’s World Health Day, let us remember that good health is important because it is a state of physical and mental wellbeing which is necessary for each one of us to live a meaningful, pleasant and productive life. There is actually evidence that good health is also an integral part of thriving modern societies and a cornerstone of well performing economies.

With a sickly population, economic development remains a pipedream. We need to seriously start tackling important challenges within the health sector to ensure that good health is guaranteed for the population. And that can only be achieved if we realise that this responsibility is for all, not just for those within the health sector.

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