The New Times (Kigali)

26 October 2011

Rwanda: Who Warns About Neglected Diseases

Countries have been called upon to intensify efforts to reduce the major causes of child deaths pointing out that pneumonia and diarrhoea remain some of the most neglected diseases.

The call was made at the beginning of a four-day regional meeting, in Kigali, on child survival that attracted delegates from eight African Francophone countries, organised by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Statistics from WHO for the year 2008 indicate that out of 8.8 million child deaths, 1.6 million were caused by pneumonia while 1.3 million were due to diarrhea.

The Programme Manager, Child and Adolescent, WHO Rwanda Office, Dr Phanuel Habimana, said that regional states have accelerated their pace towards the achievement of Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) but that there was still need for more efforts to reduce child mortality rate.

"In the case of Rwanda, there has been tremendous progress in reducing mortality rate. The rate has been steadily going down by seven percent each year, showing that the country is on a good path to achieving MDG 4," Habimana said.

The target for Millennium Development Goal 4 is ensuring that child deaths are reduced by at least two-thirds by 2015.

Habimana also called upon countries to pay attention to the two killer diseases and implement actions to prevent and control them.

The Minister of Health, Dr Agnes Binagwaho, noted that Rwanda introduced the pneumococcal vaccine for pneumonia with the help of Gavi Alliance, formerly the "Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation.

She said that the number of pneumonia cases among children has drastically reduced, but hastened to add that a lot more needed to be done.

"We might introduce vaccines but people need to also play their part by maintaining good hygiene. For example, however much we provide medication for diarrhea, when people are still living in unhygienic conditions, they will still catch the disease," the minister said.

She added that child mortality rate in Rwanda had reduced by 50 percent. The minister, however, cited lack of infrastructure as one of the main challenges.

The Programme Officer, Childhood Pneumonia at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Angela Hwang, applauded Rwanda's progress in child health. "Rwanda is doing a great job especially with children vaccination programmes. It was among the first countries in Africa to use the pneumonia vaccine and the results are remarkable."

She called on other nations to emulate Rwanda by implementing similar strategies to improve child health and survival.

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