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Treatable diseases kill millions of Africans: WHO

Written by: Staff

GENEVA, Nov 21: Millions of mothers, newborn babies and children die each year in Africa from preventable diseases despite promises of better healthcare by governments and donor countries, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said.

Because of AIDS and armed conflicts, the health situation in many countries has not improved in recent years and in some cases has worsened, the United Nations agency said yesterday.

Calling it Africa's ''silent epidemic,'' the WHO said African countries accounted for 19 of the 20 countries with the highest rates of maternal mortality worldwide.

It has the highest death rate worldwide for babies up to a month old, 43 per 1,000 live births or four times the rate in Europe, the WHO said in its African Regional Health Report.

While highlighting some successes, such as Uganda's AIDS programme and Mali's community health centres, the report spells out the health challenges facing the 46 countries belonging to its Africa region.

''We know what the challenges are, and we know how to address them -- but we also recognise that Africa's fragile health systems represent an enormous barrier,'' said Louis Gomes Sambo, WHO's regional director for Africa.

''African governments and their partners must make a major commitment and invest more funds to strengthen health systems,'' he added in a statement accompanying the report, the first WHO health snapshot of the whole region.

HIV/AIDS continues to devastate Africa, which has only 11 per cent of the world's population but 60 per cent of the people living with the HIV virus.

More than 90 per cent of the estimated 300-500 million malaria cases that occur worldwide, mainly children under 5, are in Africa.

Non-communicable diseases such as heart disease and diabetes, more usually associated with better-off countries, are also beginning to take a heavy toll.

Only 58 per cent of the people living in sub-Saharan Africa have access to safe drinking water, according to the report.

Nevertheless, there are some bright spots. River blindness has been all but eliminated and 33 of the 42 countries most affected by malaria have adopted the artemisinin-based combination therapy, which is the most effective, the WHO said.

Polio is close to eradication and measles deaths have declined more than 50 percent since 1999.


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