Monrovia, Liberia, April 12, 2014 --(PR.com
)-- Declaring open the 15th Ordinary Meeting of the Assembly of Health Ministers of ECOWAS at the City Hall, the President of the Republic of Liberia, Her Excellency, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, told participants that achieving Universal Health Coverage by ECOWAS countries is a daunting task not only because it takes time and perseverance, it also involves accessibility, affordability and quality of service.
According to President Sirleaf, while countries recognize inadequate financing for drugs and facilities construction and lack of incentives for health workers as stumbling blocks in the pathway to achieving UHC. She said, “the added challenge we need to overcome today is the declining contributions from international partners…this is a reality and it is clear that if our countries are to achieve Universal Health Coverage, we must go to work to build a sustainable health financing that is domestic based.”
In his own remarks, the Liberian Minister of Health, Dr. Walter.T. Gwenigale said that for a reconstructing country like Liberia, rebuilding health systems already destroyed by war had required a lot of careful planning, hard work and collaboration with partners in implementing the country’s 5 year plan. “Today, I am proud to tell you that we have reduced our child mortality rate from 190 to 80 making Liberia one of those countries that have achieved the MDG 4,” he said.
The Director-General of the West African Health Organisation (WAHO) Dr. Xavier Crespin thanked the President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and the people of Liberia for agreeing to host the meeting. He equally expressed his gratitude to the ECOWAS Ministers of Health present and the ECOWAS Commission for having ratified his appointment and that of his Deputy, Dr.Laurent Assogba.
He said that media reports in the last weeks prior to the meeting have been dominated by the Ebola virus disease outbreak in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. This development is without consequences saying that “It comes as attest to the gains already made in the fight diseases and is constant reminder that we must consecrate more efforts and resources to effectively put epidemics at bay.”
Dr. Crespin briefed the gathering of the trends in health situation within the ECOWAS region where HIV/AIDS though on the decline still sees more than 5 million without access to essential medicines. Malaria and other non-communicable diseases are reported to be on the increase while in spite of progress recorded by many countries towards reducing maternal mortality; the current rates of reduction indicate that the region will not meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs 4 & 5).
Concluding, Dr Crespin announced that for the year 2014, WAHO has chosen as its priority theme the Universal Health Coverage given the growing number of people who face enormous challenges in accessing quality health services across the West African region.
Representing the President of the ECOWAS Commission, HE Kadre Desire Ouedraogo at the opening ceremony, The Commissioner for Gender & Social Affairs, Mrs. Fatoumata Sow recalled the ECOWAS 2020 Vision of moving from a community of States to a community of People. She said the desire to put healthcare services within the reach of the region’s populations has informed the creation of the West African Health Organisation.
She observed that though there has been an improvement in the health of our region’s populations, we must now redouble our efforts as more than 40 percent of healthcare costs are directly borne by individuals adding that “Efforts to reduce the mortality of children aged less than five years, the fight against HIV/AIDS and improvement of maternal health could be greatly compromised.”
In a speech delivered on behalf of the WHO Regional Director, AFRO, Dr. Luis Sambo by the WHO Country Representative in Liberia, Dr. Nestor Ndayimirije, he enjoined countries to make significant investment in epidemic response in order to avoid unnecessary morbidity and mortality saying that “Response to epidemics is unnecessarily delayed when adequate preparedness measure have not been put in place.”
Organized under the auspices of the West African Health Organisation (WAHO) and hosted by Liberia for the first time, the two-day meeting has brought together Ministers of Health from the ECOWAS region, representatives of the ECOWAS Commission, United Nations Agencies, technical partners and WAHO staff members, a Health Experts Committee meeting on 8th and 9th April as well a Partners’ Forum on 10th April respectively preceded this meeting being presided by Dr. Raymonde Goudou Coffie of Cote d’Ivoire, the immediate past Chairperson of the Assembly of Health Ministers.