Access to health services should be possible right across Angola
WHO Director-General on first country visit stresses that foundation exists to reach people throughout the country
Luanga (Angola), 29 August 2003 - The success of national immunization campaigns against polio and measles in reaching every corner of Angola shows that it is possible to provide health care to all Angolans, said Dr LEE Jong-wook, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) today. Dr Lee stressed that despite significant challenges, the polio and measles programmes had laid the groundwork to reach children in even the most difficult and inaccessible areas.
“These nationwide immunization campaigns have reached all corners of the country, and proven that with tenacious volunteers and health workers, backed by strong leadership and commitment of the Government of Angola, people right across this country can be reached with health services. This platform must be used to improve the health of people here in Angola,” Dr Lee said.
“We know we can reach people. We must continue to do so urgently. In a country with one of the highest child mortality rates in the world, and about two million people considered extremely vulnerable, we have much work to do. These people cannot survive three decades of conflict only to die for lack of health services,” said Dr Lee.
Dr Lee visited people living with HIV/AIDS at the Cajuero Hospital in Luanda, one of the few centres in the country which offers HIV testing, counselling and care. However, antiretroviral treatment is not yet available to people suffering AIDS. Dr Lee renewed WHO’s commitment to the "3 x 5" target, ensuring that three million people in the poorest countries around the world can access antiretroviral drugs by 2005.
This is Dr Lee's first national visit since he took office as Director-General on July 21st. He is visiting Angola to demonstrate his commitment to working with countries facing extremely difficult health issues, including high rates of malaria infection, growing incidence of HIV and a health system working with extremely limited resources.
Dr Lee also took part in the launch of Angola’s polio national immunization days, a three-day campaign aimed at vaccinating more than five million children under five against the disease. Using cars, bicycles, canoes, motorcycles, helicopters and travelling by foot, tens of thousands of vaccinators have successfully reached more than five million children in Angola with polio vaccine three times in the last year. As a result of this success, no cases of polio have been found in Angola since September 2001. By contrast, Angola had the largest recorded outbreak of polio on the African continent in 1999, when more than 1,000 children were paralysed.
Measles, a disease which kills more than half a million children every year, is also more successfully being controlled this year so far, as a result of a nationwide “catch-up” campaign in the spring for children under 15, covering 7.3 million children. To date, 200 suspected measles cases have been recorded in June and July, compared with an estimated 2781 in the same period last year.
“Reaching children is no longer the main problem," said Dr Lee. "What needs to be done now is to deliver more proven health interventions, including routine immunization, improved care for mothers and newborns and surveillance and treatment for people with HIV/AIDS. Several million Angolans are now resettling into their home areas. Now is the time to bring health services to them by rebuilding the infrastructure at communal level.”
More than 4.5 million Angolans were displaced during three decades of civil conflict. Now, 2.4 million people are back and resettled in their homes. WHO, with partners, has been providing basic health kits, supporting immunization services including routine immunization, the polio and measles national immunization campaigns, and lab supplies as well as drugs for malaria, TB, leprosy, trypanosomiasis, onchocerciasis as the Government of Angola plans resettlement of two million more people.
Dr Lee noted that as with polio, which relied on an extensive partnership led by the Government of Angola and backed by Rotary International, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, UNICEF and USAID, other health interventions will require strong leadership by the government and continued support from WHO and partners.
“WHO has 110 staff in Angola in 18 offices around the country. We are here to help this country strengthen the public health system. This is my priority for Angola, and for all countries which require support,” said Dr Lee. “WHO looks forward to continuing working with partners to provide people in even the most difficult situations with health services. It is their right. And it is our responsibility.”
Since the 4 April 2002 ceasefire in Angola, WHO, UNICEF, NGOs and the other partners have been supporting the country by providing a minimum health care package including vaccinations, HIV, malaria, TB, leprosy, trypanosomiasis and other disease control activities. Other health partners include the European Union, USAID, Italy, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Japan among others which have provided primary health care services for hundreds of thousands of Angolans as they returned home.
During Dr Lee's two-day visit to Angola, he is launching the polio immunization campaign, visiting a hospital which offers support for people living with HIV/AIDS, a centre for homeless girls and a physical rehabilitation centre. Dr Lee is also meeting with partners and members of the Angolan government. He is scheduled to meet with Angolan President José Eduardo dos Santos this afternoon.