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WHO Chief Sees Health Improvement in Africa


Although improvements have been made, Margaret Chan says African health remains on the critical list. She says communicable and non-communicable diseases continue to disable and shorten peoples' lives.

The Director-General of the World Health Organization, Margaret Chan, says important progress has been made in tackling some of Africa's worst health problems over the past decade. But, she says this is no time to cheer, as Africa remains a continent burdened by disease and death.

Margaret Chan has made Africa one of her top priorities since she was elected to be Director-General of the World Health Organization in November 2006.

Although improvements have been made, she says African health remains on the critical list. She says communicable and non-communicable diseases continue to disable and shorten peoples' lives.

Despite this, she notes good progress has been made in tackling certain diseases, such as malaria. WHO reports malaria kills nearly one million children every year. The vast majority in Africa.

Chan reports the number of malaria deaths among African children has been cut in half. She attributes this to treatment of the disease with the combination drug, ACT, and the widespread use of insecticide treated bed nets.

She says she was very encouraged by what she saw during a recent visit to Uganda and Tanzania.

"And, I saw, first hand and talked to doctors and nurses first hand," said WHO chief. "And some of them were actually complaining that they were not getting business because they are seeing less patients coming in for malaria. So, to me those are the best news one can get."

Chan says more than four million HIV patients in Africa are receiving life-saving drugs to treat their disease. She says such progress was unimaginable 10 years ago.

She says for the first time in 60 years, deaths among children under age five dropped to below 10 million. She says this achievement is thanks to partnerships such as the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, known as the GAVI Alliance.

She says such alliances invested heavily in increasing the coverage of childhood preventable vaccines and in strengthening the distribution systems set up to deliver these vaccines to children.

"Another example, a more specific example, is measles," said Chan. "Between the period of the year 2000 to 2008, there is a 78 percent drop in mortality due to measles. This huge success is actually led by countries in Africa. And, this success is actually prompting some countries in WHO calling for the elimination of measles."

Unfortunately, WHO Chief Margaret Chan notes along with the good news comes the bad. She says she is deeply touched by the lack of progress in maternal mortality. She says about one half million women in Africa and Asia continue to die of problems related to pregnancy and childbirth.

Another issue of grave concern is violence against women. She says the abusive treatment of women gets less attention than the more obvious diseases. But, she says it is an important health issue for women and must not be ignored.

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