Maputo — Mozambican Prime Minister Luisa Diogo on Thursday urged African health ministers to make all efforts to ensure that reproductive and sexual health services should be free of charge throughout the continent.
Opening a two day meeting of African Union health ministers in Maputo, intended to launch the Action Plan for the African Policy on Sexual and Reproductive Health, Diogo said that only through services free at the point of delivery could disease and poverty be fought.
She added that Africa is well aware of the challenges that will be posed in implementing this plan, which will require additional financial resources from the public, private and NGO sectors. And, naturally enough, the poorest countries will need more resources, given the social and economic problems they face.
The Prime Minister stressed that health is central for community development and well being. This was very clear from the fact that four of the eight Millennium Development Goals, adopted by the United Nations in 2000, are linked to health.
These are: reducing infant mortality by two thirds, reducing maternal mortality by three quarters, halting and then reversing the spread of AIDS, and promoting gender equality and the empowerment of women. The target set by the UN is to achieve all these goals by 2015.
Diogo stressed that "the spectre of HIV/AIDS has lacerated our continent, and particularly southern Africa". Indeed AIDS had helped erode previous gains in the area of reproductive health This, she said, implied that health ministers should "adopt a holistic, comprehensive and integrated vision of sexual and reproductive health matters", which included the fight against HIV/AIDS, as well as questions of poverty alleviation and gender equity.
The ministers, Diogo said, had "great responsibility, since our commitment will only be important in the continent and in each of our individual countries, if we contribute towards improving the quality of life of women, men, adolescents, children, households and future generations".
That, in turn, would only be possible if questions of reproductive health "are integrated into all social and economic aspects in a comprehensive and coordinated way".
a further speaker at the opening session was the former chairperson of the Chinese parliament, and head of the Chinese Red Cross, Penj Pei Yun, who pledged total Chinese support for health programmes in Africa.
"We are not here just to learn, but also to stimulate partnership between China and Africa", he said.
Also attending the meeting was Diogo's predecessor as prime minister, Pascoal Mocumbi, who is the sole African candidate for the post of Director-General of the World Health Organisation (WHO).