AU leaders should not let African children's dream turn into nightmare

Kampala- Uganda (PANA) -- Africa is getting down to serious business of survival and development after the "vuvuzela" sounds from the rainbow nation, South Africa, have been hushed at the end of a month-long celebration of the first ever FIFA World Cup played in the continent.
And some African leaders gathering in Kampala for the 15th Ordinary Summit of the African Union say the continent has been inspired by South Africa's determination and historic success to host the World Cup.
And many are convinced that Africa can transform itself and overcome development challenges if it doubled the energy felt in the football bonanza.
With the African Union (AU) spearheading a renewed effort that puts priority attention to the continent's human resource pool, every nation is called upon to make the "final push" to making universal access to health services a reality.
For ages Africa's children have continued to bear the brunt of global child deaths with the sub-Saharan region accounting for up to 50 per cent of the global under-five mortality in 2008.
According to the AU Commission's Department of Social Affairs, the current situation calls for aggressive and rapid redress.
When African leaders rise from their seats at this lakeside resort near the Ugandan capital, Kampala, they face the challenge of keeping the dream of the continent's children alive.
It's the dream of enjoying a better future wherever they stay.
It's a dream of survival and achieving their individual ambitions as successful citizens of the continent.
The world has heard the past rhetoric by these leaders about the welfare of children but to many millions of the African children that has meant hollow.
Despite the assertion of the United Nations that the overall absolute number of people struggling against extreme poverty fell marginally from 54 per cent to 51 per cent of the sub-Sahara African population between 1981and 2005, hordes of poor families wonder whether the road taken by the leadership of some African nations is the right one or has simply turned their dream into a nightmare.
The legacy of neglect of child rights in some of these countries, particularly those still in or are emerging from conflict situations, is likely to last for several decades.
In many rural areas, the nearest health facility can be found 10 km or farther away, and such facilities are often not adequately equipped to provide the essential health services.
"Many health facilities in Africa still lack basic infrastructure like clean water and a reliable supply of electricity.
Where functioning health facilities exist, user fees often block access to essential health services," says the 2010 Progress Report on the move made by AU member states toward the implementation of the 2000 Abuja Call by African leaders for action on infectious diseases.
Though some countries have really shown their commitment to fight malaria, HIV/AIDS and other diseases, many countries have either lost or wasted the opportunity.
Now Africa must pull out all the stops to make sure it wins, at least, some targets of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
According to State of the Union Continental Report 2010, only Algeria and Egypt would meet the MDG target of reducing under-five mortality by two-thirds.
Rwanda has recorded a rapid improvement but it is still insufficient to meet the target, while others including Cameroon and Kenya have actually seen an increase in under-five mortality.
The report, coordinated by a continental advisory research team of civil society organisations and unveiled in Kampala on Saturday, assesses the performance of AU member states against key governance, economic, social, civil and political policy standards and rights instruments over the period 2004-2009.
In its assessment, the team used four policy frameworks and 10 legal instruments of the AU including the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights in Africa; African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child; African Youth Charter, Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on Rights of Women in Africa; the Abuja Call for Accelerated Action towards Universal Access to HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria Services by 2010; and the African Health Strategy 2007-2015.
2010 is an important year in Africa for several national, continental and international processes.
It marks the 10th anniversary of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, celebration of 50 years of independence in 17 countries, the launch of the African Women's Decade (2010-2020), and the last milestone for African governments to raise their health expenditure to 15 per cent of national budgets.
The report, however, finds an alarming gap between AU legal instruments and policy standards as well as the policies and practices of most member states.
This raises some worry whether African governments were forced to sign and ratify instruments they could not live up to.
African nations have for long spoken with one voice on many issues at the centre of the continent's development but often lacked concerted action to either build credible infrastructure or provide reliable services.
"South Africa can be used as an example to be emulated by other African nations if the political will and logistics exist to empower knowledge and share it," said one observer at the AU Summit which is being held under the theme: "Maternal, Infant and Child Health and Development in Africa.
" According to findings of the 2010 State of the Union Continental Report, there has been considerable progress in the provision and delivery of health services with some countries recording breakthroughs in maternal and child health and reversing prevalence of HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis.
However, insufficient progress has been reported in public financing of health, protecting women from unsafe abortions and adolescent sex education.
Only Rwanda is mentioned to have met the 15 per cent health-financing target in 2009.
Mozambique, Senegal and Algeria spent between 10-15 per cent.
Kenya, South Africa, Egypt and Cameroon spent between 5-10 per cent with Ghana and Nigeria setting aside less than 5 per cent of their budget on health.
The assessment team concluded that reliable access to essential health services was still elusive in many countries.
Less than 30 per cent of Ghanaians and Kenyans had easy access to health facilities, compared with Rwandese (50 per cent) and Cameroonians (62 per cent).
In line with aspirations of the Maputo Plan for Sexual and Reproductive Health, Algeria, Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya, Senegal, Egypt and Rwanda have made considerable progress in meeting the right to maternal health.
Beatrice Were, an AIDS activist and policy adviser at Oxfam, said: "African heads of state had better put their money where their mouth is.
HIV and AIDS must be treated like an emergency as it is an epidemic like no other in the history of the world.
Africa would stand to lose so much if the 15 per cent declaration (of 2001) is not met.
" Africa's renowned artist Yvonne Chaka Chaka said: "Africa will have no moral authority to seek international help to fight HIV, tuberculosis and malaria as well as reduce maternal and child mortality if our heads of state do not massively scale up domestic investments in health priorities.
" Yvonne has joined performers from across the continent to challenge leaders at the Summit to save lives and deliver on their health promises.
As it was with the World Cup, the eyes of the world are on Africa and the continent's leaders must be conscious of what their societies need.
Many critics are bound to come to Africa after the Summit looking for failures and bad accounts in the health sector, but they can go back home disappointed if the governments and their institutions make a determined effort to improve the situation.
Since there is no final whistle on the MDGs, 2015 should not be seen as the end of the road for Africa.
But the people are waiting for that year to wake up feeling proud of their achievements toward better living standards.

24 juillet 2010 18:34:00

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