By Petronella Sibeene WINDHOEK The Southern African Development Community (SADC) Ministers of Health Meeting that will discuss major public health challenges facing the region started in Windhoek yesterday. The region suffers a misfortune of challenges related to public health, among them tuberculosis, malaria and HIV/AIDS. Most countries have however reported progress in fighting malaria. The Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health and Social Services, Dr Kalumbi Shangula, told New Era that compared to other countries Namibia is doing fairly well in the area of malaria. Last year, the ministry decided to change the course for malaria treatment from chloroquine to arthemeter/lumefantrine. According to Shangula, the malaria parasite is no longer sensitive to chloroquine hence the change. “The medicine is distributed all over the country and positive results have been reported,” he said. In 2005 alone, about 369 000 cases of malaria were reported countrywide with 1 300 deaths. Though he could not provide comparable figures, he said that before the drug was introduced, more people had succumbed to the malaria virus. The most affected regions in the country include Omusati, Oshikoto and Oshana. The Caprivi and Kavango regions are other problematic areas. The permanent secretary said most residents in these regions have developed some kind of immunity to malaria as their bodies are used to being bitten given the presence of mosquitoes throughout the year due to the presence of rivers that make conditions ideal for the breeding of malaria-bearing mosquitoes. Despite these achievements, the biggest challenge remains insufficient resources especially in monetory terms. “We need to spray, there is need for insecticides, transport and payment for the teams in the field,” Shangula said. The ministry every year pumps millions of dollars into the anti-malaria related campaigns. Meanwhile, the ministerial meeting takes place at such a time when the region will commemorate Malaria Day, to take place this Friday at Eudafano Women Centre in Ondangwa. Held under the theme “Scaling up Indoor Residual Spraying (IRHS) with Dichloro-Diphenyl-Triethane (DDT),” the meeting will focus on the implementation plan of the SADC Protocol on Health, review a progress report on major communicable and non-communicable diseases, the SADC pharmaceutical programme and reports of international meetings and conferences. Chairperson of the SADC Senior Officials from Lesotho, Teleko Ramotsoari, at the meeting said SADC is faced with many leading communicable diseases that afflict many people. Apart from malaria, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis, the region this year faced another challenge relating to avian influenza or “bird flu”. Another problem relates to the extreme drug resistant (XDR) TB, which most member states are still trying to understand before taking action. Five countries, namely South Africa, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Namibia are among the 22 burden countries that account for 80% of TB cases worldwide. As a body whose role is to facilitate and coordinate activities in the region, SADC has developed strategic documents such as the Implementation Plan of the Protocol on Health, the Pharmaceutical Business Plan, and Medicines and Regulatory Guidelines including the framework of principles for regulating traditional medicines and its practice. Ramotsoari also expressed concern over the shortages of human health resources at all levels of care. The problem, he added, has been exacerbated by the exodus of health professionals, particularly nurses and doctors to developed countries such as the United Kingdom (UK), the United States of America (USA) and Australia. “The region has started to address these challenges and hopes this meeting will provide for further leadership on the implementation of the Strategic Plan on Human Resources and Policy guidelines on attraction and retention of health professionals,” he said. This meeting ends on Friday.
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