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Gabon Government Improves Public Access to Healthcare

Gabon President Ali Ben Bongo Ondimba has launched an ambitious development agenda to transform the country.
This is Part Three of a six-part series on Gabon Continue to Parts: 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5 / 6

In Gabon, the government says it has begun building new medical facilities to make sure all citizens have access to quality health care.

Besides building the Angondje Cancer Institute in the capital, Libreville, the government said it is restructuring public hospitals and establishing university hospitals specializing in surgery, maternal and child health, orthopedics and trauma treatment.

The World Health Organization reports HIV/AIDS and malaria are “leading causes of disease burden” in Gabon, followed by premature and low birth weight infants and tuberculosis.

WHO said Gabon spends about $650 per capita each year on health care, a figure that is far below the $1,300 per capita in neighboring Equatorial Guinea, but well above the $122 in Cameroon and $126 for the Republic of Congo.

The average life expectancy in Gabon is 62 years and ranges from five to 11 years higher than its closest neighbors.

Infectious disease specialist, Doctor Jean Paul Gonzalez, director general of the International Center for Medical Research of Franceville, (CIRMF) said the organization is backing the government’s objectives.

“We are always following the demand of the public health system. We were in the field for HIV [research] in the beginning so we know more about HIV and the people being treated here in Gabon,” said Gonzalez. He added, “We are following infected people so we understand how to adjust their treatment. For Ebola, we are the [research] leader, so now the healthcare system knows how to handle … an epidemic of Ebola.”

CIRMF’s research findings and training, he said, provide critical information to doctors in Gabon to treat infectious diseases. The center is funded mostly by the government, with additional support from USAID and others.

WHO said Gabon’s leading noncommunicable conditions are neuropsychiatric conditions, which include addictions, eating disorders and degenerative diseases, followed cardiovascular disease and disorders or illnesses affecting the eyes, ears, skin, etc.

Though some experts have faulted Gabon’s health care, especially in rural areas, Gonzales says programs are underway to improve the situation.
“We train Gabon doctoral students to be future leaders in medical research here and abroad,” said Gonzalez. “The fallout of our research directly applies to the medical system and training the people to excellence to solve problems here in Gabon.”

Gabon’s First Lady Sylvia Bongo Ondimba has also called for personal responsibility regarding healthcare. Regarding AIDS, she is quoted on her foundation’s website as saying, “Each person, at his or her respective level, must be accountable for his or her actions and think of the wellbeing of our communities, of collective health.”