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Private US Group Puts Up $100 Million to Streamline Africa's Healthcare

A private U.S. foundation has launched a $100 million initiative to strengthen health systems in Africa. From VOA's New York Bureau, correspondent Barbara Schoetzau reports the initiative will support partnerships in nine African nations.

The African Health Initiative, launched by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, is designed to specifically address the difficulty of delivering health care in Africa.

The foundation was set up in 1996 by the will of the late tobacco heiress Doris Duke. Joan Spero, the foundation's president, says governments, businesses and international organizations are responding to the health crisis in Africa by providing resources, developing new treatment and making drugs more readily available. But Spero says the continent's weak health systems and a staggering deficiency of health workers are compromising the ability to deliver care.

"Organizations and governments are trying to deliver new treatments and vaccines through broken or non-existent health systems. All the new discoveries and funds simply cannot be delivered on this broken distribution system. We have concluded that health systems need to be fixed. The experts and officials that we consulted encouraged us to develop an initiative that would take a systematic approach to the strengthening health systems and not to try to develop entirely new health care delivery systems but to build on and strengthen the many efforts that are already in place in Africa," she said.

The Initiative will support the creation of six large scale partnerships designed to provide integrated primary health care and achieve measurable health improvements for underserved communities of at least 250,000 people. Each partnership will be funded for five to seven years at levels ranging from $8 million to $20 million. The Foundation hopes these partnerships will serve as models for others throughout the continent.

Nigeria-based Adetokunbo Lucas is the founding director of the World Health Organization's Special Program for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases and a professor of international health at Harvard University. He says the Initiative comes at a propitious time.

"A lot of initiatives are directed as Africa now. But one area that most donors have shied away from is how to improve the health systems. They know that it is important, but there is always this concern that it is a bottomless pit and will be very, very difficult to show impact," he said.

The foundation seeks to work with organizations already on the ground: local hospitals, governments, health groups, academic institutions, non-governmental organizations in nine nations: Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, Tanzania and Zambia. Foundation staff members say the choices were made after discussions with experts to identify nations that had both a significant need and interesting projects already under way that the Initiative could build upon.

The foundation announced the African Health Initiative at the annual Clinton Global Initiative, founded by President Bill Clinton to address the world's most pressing problems.