Poor still taking punishment

2010-09-18 11:51

Tomorrow is a defining moment for world leaders as they meet in New York to try to salvage the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

These pledges were designed to diminish global poverty by 2015 and, while some advances have been made, the health-related goals are still way off track.

Many families in poor countries are forced to choose between feeding their children and ­sending them to school.

Millions of people don’t have access to healthcare because there are no health centres where they live, or it is too costly to travel to one.

If free healthcare had been ­globally introduced in 2000, when the goals were set, more than two-and-a-half-million ­children’s lives could have been saved by now.

At the current rate of progress, the goal of reducing the number of children who die before their fifth birthday won’t be met until 2045, and the goal to reduce ­maternal deaths will take a ­further 98 years, rather than the five we have left.

Many pay with their lives as healthcare is simply too expensive.

These user fees punish the poor – healthcare should be a ­basic human right, not something exclusive to those who can ­afford to pay.

Being poor is a major cause of ill health, and ill health causes people to be poor. The key to ending this vicious circle?

Free healthcare for those who need it most, and well-stocked clinics and hospitals, both in ­rural and urban areas, staffed by well-trained and properly paid nurses and doctors.

A year ago six countries reached a turning point and gave their people a lifeline by ­announcing free healthcare.

In ­Sierra Leone, one of the ­pioneering countries, healthcare is now free for mothers and ­children ­under five years old.

Since the scheme was launched, in April, 179% more children have visited health centres.

In the first month, antenatal clinics in the capital, Freetown, saw seven times more women than they had before.

Other countries are also making strides.

After the government of Ghana made healthcare free for pregnant women in 2008, nearly half a million more women have been given healthcare they would not have otherwise ­received.

In Malawi child mortality rates have halved over the past 10 years.

The number of people globally who are getting free treatment for HIV and Aids soared from 400 000 in 2003 to four million in 2008.

But the changing climate, rising food prices and the financial ­crisis are all hampering progress. So is political inaction.

Many rich countries have ­broken promises to help poorer ­nations achieve the MDGs.

The UK, however, is a global leader and is keeping its aid ­commitments.

It now needs to persuade other countries to follow suit by giving well-targeted and predictable aid, and helping countries to make healthcare free.

We are calling on leaders to rescue the MDGs.

Urgent action is needed and, for the sake of millions of people worldwide who depend on them, these are goals that must be met.

» Okine is the director of the Alliance for Reproductive Health Rights in Ghana

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