Health gains at WHO regional committee meeting

A five-day regional health meeting ended on Friday in Johannesburg, South Africa, with African health ministers pledging to give greater attention to women's health and scale up their HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis (TB) programmes.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) regional committee session, held last week, urged governments to develop "appropriate policies and legislation to create a supportive environment for scaling up interventions" for the three epidemics, a WHO statement said.

Addressing the conference on Monday, WHO Director-General Dr Lee Jong-Wook warned that staff shortages in the continent's overstretched health facilities could jeopardise WHO's "3 by 5" plan to provide antiretrovirals (ARVs) to three million people living with HIV/AIDS in developing countries by the end of 2005.

"Only 50,000 of the 4.5 million people who need antiretroviral therapy have access to treatment, despite significant reductions in cost," the WHO's regional annual report for 2002 noted.

African Union Social Affairs Commissioner, Mahamat Doutoum, called for governments to address the brain drain by putting in place incentives to retain health care workers.

Elements of traditional culture and subservient female roles were pushing HIV/AIDS levels up and depriving African women of access to quality health-care services, a report presented at the conference stated.

Protecting women during pregnancy, childbearing and motherhood was crucial, as half a million women die every year giving birth, the conference heard.

In response, ministers on Friday adopted a strategy to incorporate women's health into national policies to address such gender inequalities.

A resolution on strengthening health services called for the better management of African hospitals, after a report released earlier in the week pointed out that hospitals were "getting worse in terms of both the scope and quality of health care" they provided.

The meeting also called for increased health investment and the development of updated food safety policies.