- New strategies are required in place to achieve millennium development goals, especially those aimed at improving health systems and ensuring universal access to treatment and care. This was conclusion by health leaders meeting today in New York.
Meeting observed that while significant progress towards reducing child and maternal mortality is being made, but to meet MDG's 4,5,6, strategies aimed at reaching world's most inaccessible, marginalised and vulnerable populations will be required.
Ethiopia's Minister of Health and heads of four leading global health organisations, GAVI Alliance, UNAIDS, Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria, and UNICEF said that immunisation coverage, large-scale campaigns to prevent malaria and access to AIDS and malaria treatments have improved in developing countries, attributing success to more availed resources, new partnerships and technologies, stable, long-term donor support and improved coordination among health actors.
Ethiopia's Minister Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus expressed his country's strong commitment to achieving the MDGs and stated that "Ethiopia is on track to meet MDG 4" but must rely on strong donor support for its national health plan to continue its progress.
Increasing immunisation rates are recognised as essential to achieving MDG 4, a two-thirds reduction in childhood mortality by 2015, experts said, further pointing out that major killer diseases of children in poorer countries have been dramatically reduced, while others have been virtually eliminated, especially in some parts of Africa.
According to reports, last year, nearly one million more people were receiving antiretroviral therapy than in 2006, and today some three million people living with HIV are now on treatment globally - two million of which are in sub-Saharan Africa.
Over past eight years, global investments to fight malaria have increased ten-fold and AIDS investment eight-fold, according to reports, with Global Fund alone having financed programmes worth US$11.4 billion since its creation in 2002.
"This unprecedented increase in resources is already showing encouraging results in reducing mortality and morbidity," health leaders observed today.
GAVI, a public-private alliance of major global health players reported success in delivering essential childhood vaccines in developing world. Since its creation in 2000, GAVI's support has helped prevent 2.9 million future deaths and protected 36.8 million additional children with basic vaccines. Immunisation rates have also increased to more than 70 per cent in many countries.
"Many more people are living longer and healthier lives today thanks to increased access to HIV treatment. This could not have happened without substantial financial investments and improved health systems," said Dr Peter Piot, Executive Director, UNAIDS, adding, "the challenge now is to sustain these gains and to ensure more equitable access for people who have been marginalized."
Recent statistics also show that under-five mortality has continued to decline in 2007, according to Ms Ann M. Veneman, Executive Director UNICEF, saying "Continued success in measles and tetanus immunization rates, distribution of insecticide-treated nets (ITN), and prevention of mother to child transmission of HIV should maintain this positive trend."
Even with these improvements, experts however agreed that to reach MDGs and achieve equitable distribution of public health across social, gender, ethnic and geographic levels will be more complex and costly.
"However successful we have been so far, we still face major challenges in ensuring vaccines reach most vulnerable children. It's getting harder; the distances are getting greater and, in the areas we need to reach, the health systems are weakest. We must determine the best strategies with which to reach those girls and boys who are still missing out on immunisation," said GAVI Alliance's Executive Secretary, Dr Julian Lob-Levyt.
"The progress in fighting malaria alone can reduce child mortality enough to reach the MDG 4 target," Dr Michel Kazatchkine, Executive Director of Global Fund said, also emphasizing, "however, great progress we have seen recently must be consolidated into lasting, sustainable progress in mother and child healthcare."
Pointing to lessons learned through AIDS response, Dr Piot said: "Involving civil society and ensuring a rights-based approach can help strengthen health systems and deliver results to the people."
Experts also argued that development should be led by national priorities and a country's long-term plans. "Altering business-as-usual and embracing a country-driven approach should be a core principle for development agencies, donor organisations and civil society organisations worldwide," said Dr Lob-Levyt.
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