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28.10.2004 Health

Sub-Regional Health experts meet

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Accra, Oct 28, GNA - Dr. Kwaku Afriyie, Minister of Health on Thursday called for increased consultation between member countries in the West Africa Sub-Region to harmonise health policies and integrate programmes that would yield maximum results in health.

He said the need to move from rhetoric to action was imperative, since "this would help us implement action plans that would yield better results for the numerous health problems facing the Sub-Region". Dr Afriyie, who is also the Chairman of the West African Health Organisation (WAHO), made the call at the Fifth Ordinary Meeting of the Organisation in Accra.

Health experts from 15 West African Countries are attending the six-day conference, which would focus on health issues including strategies for the reduction of maternal and pre-natal mortality; West African Reproductive Health Community Security; Polio Eradication, HIV/AIDS and Access to Antiretroviral Drugs.

The Health Minister mentioned the HIV/AIDS pandemic as the current major cause for worry by many health experts since there was no cure.

He said though statistics on HIV/AIDS in the Sub-Region was better compared to that of other Sub-Regions, "we should not be complacent and lower guard in our fight against the pandemic and must intensify our scaling up of care and treatment".

He said Ghana had made great strides in reducing the rate of new infections among the adolescent population through various educational campaigns to effect behavioural change.

"We have moved from awareness creation to more proactive methods of influencing behavioural change among adolescents," he said.

Dr Afriyie said with deeper consultation and the harmonization of health policies, effective strategies could be developed to check cross-boarder infection of contagious diseases such as polio, meningitis and yellow fever.

He cited the recent polio epidemic in the Sub-Region, which he said demonstrated the ease with which diseases could cross boarders. "We cannot relent in our efforts when micro-nutrients deficiencies, maternal and pre-natal mortalities still reigned high in the Sub-Region."

Dr Afriyie related some of the causes of maternal and pre-natal mortality to poor feeding practices during pregnancy, inadequacies in health systems, as well as financial constraints, adding that if such areas could be looked at and given support, it would go a long way to reduce the rate of deaths.

"We can no longer afford to act as individual countries in the face of rapid spread of diseases. We must have the necessary political will to address the issues now in order to minimize the economic, social and developmental effects."

Mr Allan Kyerematen, Minister of Trade, Industry and President's Special Initiative (PSI), said the exodus of health professionals was hindering effective health delivery in the country.

He admitted that conditions might be better abroad than in Ghana, but government had done a lot over the past four years to improve upon the service conditions of the health sector in order to motivate the workers.

"Facilities at the hospitals are being rehabilitated at a consistent rate to enhance work and the introduction of the Additional Duty Hour Allowance is to make for short falls in the take home pay," he said.

He said the Government had an ongoing programme to provide health personnel with suitable means of transport, with special allowances for those working in deprived areas, while a post graduate training had started to provide avenues for trained specialists in some health disciplines locally.

Mr Kyerematen appealed to Ghanaian trained health professionals to be dedicated and determined to sacrifice a little for national development and further entreated WAHO to come out with strategies to curb the issue of brain drain in the Sub-Region.

He also called for the economic integration of the Sub-Region by way of trade and services, adding that through the development of proper road network, railway and communication, monopoly of trading in food and other agricultural barriers could be broken to promote intra-sub-regional trade.

"Through enhanced food production, we would be able to eliminate hunger and malnutrition, while raising the literacy levels of our people especially among women and the girl-child," he said.

Mr Kyerematen said to ensure an improved health situation in the Sub-Region, there was the need to harness the meagre resources to improve education and intensify efforts to ensure behavioural change among the citizenry.

He urged WAHO to intensify advocacy on the need to involve nongovernmental organisation; civil society groups; private and public sector organisations in local decision-making to ensure discipline and promote development.

Dr Kabba T. Joiner, Director-General, WAHO, said the organization would also be considering its administrative and programme budget for 2005, which he said had improved considerably since the allocation of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Levy to all ECOWAS institutions.

He said the decision was a welcoming relief as it had greatly assisted the organization in executing its strategic plan in full and on time. He thanked the partners and sponsors for responding positively to support the programme and pledged WAHO's commitment to ensuring appropriate strategies to combat the numerous health challenges in the Sub-Region.

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