WHO Director-General calls for “urgent treatment” for people with AIDS in Africa
Dr LEE Jong-wook stresses safe births for mothers, and improved survival for children
1 September 2003 - Johannesburg, South Africa: HIV/AIDS is a “catastrophe” and people affected need urgent access to treatment, said Dr LEE Jong-wook, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) in his speech to health ministers from the WHO African Region (AFRO). Today, Dr Lee made his first address to the WHO African Regional Committee, which meets annually to review and set public health policy directions for the 46 countries in the AFRO Region.
HIV/AIDS and WHO commitment to the ‘3 by 5’
“The greatest challenge facing us now is the challenge of HIV/AIDS. In the African Region, more than 30 million people are HIV-positive. People are dying every day. They urgently need treatment,” said Dr Lee. He stressed that treatment must be offered as part of a strategy which includes prevention and care. Dr Lee emphasised WHO’s “3 by 5” plan - to provide three million people living with AIDS with antiretroviral medicines by the end of 2005. Countries in Africa would be major partners in this effort. “Overall success will require the commitment of civil society, United Nations agencies, the private sector and Member States.”
Safety for women in childbirth; malaria “titanic” problem
Dr Lee also stressed the need to ensure that women can give birth safely. “Protection during pregnancy, childbearing and motherhood forms the core of the health system. Half a million women die every year giving birth. Skilled attendants are needed in pregnancy and childbirth, with access to emergency obstetric care when complications arise.”
Child survival is also a major priority. “Despite the struggle of parents for their children's survival, 10 million children in low- and middle-income countries die every year before reaching the age of five,” said Dr Lee. “Seven million of those deaths are from five preventable and treatable conditions: pneumonia, diarrhoea, malaria, measles and malnutrition.”
“Malaria is the number one killer of children under five years old on the African continent. It remains a titanic health problem, and we have to do much more,” said Dr Lee. Malaria kills an estimated 3,000 children on the African continent every day.
The “brain drain” must be addressed
Dr Lee emphasised that as disease control efforts are scaled-up, health systems must be strengthened. He noted that doctors, nurses, laboratory technicians and other health workers were crucial to this effort. “We face big challenges, particularly in this Region which, on top of everything else, suffers heavy losses to the brain drain. It is, above all, good staff that will enable us to reach "3 by 5", and achieve the Millennium Development Goals, and everyone is short of human resources.”
“We will be working closely with countries on innovative methods to train, deploy and supervise health workers, with particular emphasis on the community and primary health care level. That is where we can make the swiftest progress in getting results, but we cannot neglect the needs of hospitals and laboratories in the process.”
WHO commitment to countries
Overall, WHO vows to support countries in strengthening their public health efforts. Dr Lee is pledging more resources for the WHO country offices, including more specialists. “Strengthening our work in countries is by far the most effective way to achieve our goals.”