The East African Community has launched an integrated maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health strategy to deliver improved reproductive, maternal and child health in the five member countries.
The five year health strategy (2015 to 2020) will focus on a rights-based approach to reducing maternal and newborn mortality rates in the region by addressing the economic, social, cultural and political forces that constrain women and their families from asserting their right to maternal health.
The East African Health Platform in partnership with GIZ and OSIEA (The Open Society Initiative for Eastern Africa) will run a one year programme to promote innovative interventions and enhance access to health information as well as resources for women and children’s health as a pilot project.
According to Joyce Abalo, the co-ordinator of the East African Health Platform (EAHP), the programme will build on the EAC health policy that expired in 2013.
“We shall focus on the sustainable health development goals, especially the targets missed on the 2015 Millennium Development Goals on maternal and newborn health,” said Ms Abalo.
The programme will emphasise reallocation of resources, changing accountability mechanisms within health systems and communities and challenging existing hierarchies in health facilities. It will highlight the need to address policy and law beyond the health sector, to include, for example, education and age of marriage.
Only Rwanda, within the region, is on track to reach Millennium Development Goal 4, which calls for reducing the 1990 mortality rate of children under five by two -thirds.
Tanzania is reported to be on track while the other three Uganda, Kenya and Burundi, are far from achieving the MDG goal.
“Member states will need to significantly accelerate progress toward this target and many of the other global development goals if they wish to achieve success by the 2015 MDG deadline and beyond, and deliver on their commitments to the Every Woman Every Child movement,” said Christine Munduru, consultant on maternal health and human rights with OSIEA.
“A Rights-based approach to policy and strategy development lies at the very centre of the response to reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health,” she said.
Ms Munduru said that maternal, newborn, child and adolescent deaths continue to remain a concern and there is a need for policies and strategies with the potential to reverse the trend.
“Partner states need to focus on cross-cutting strategies to make an immediate impact against MDGs 4 and 5 by providing enough resources and committing to implement the strategies set out for improved maternal and child health,” said Dr Munduru.
Ms Abalo said that if the programme is successful after one year, it will be submitted to the EAC Sectoral Committee on Health, which may subsequently table it before the EAC Council of Ministers for consideration and adoption into EAC policy and strategy.
The World Health Organisation report indicates that maternal, newborn and child mortality and morbidity rates in the region are still unacceptably high although there has been significant progress in addressing MDGs 4 and 5 by 2015.
WHO statistics put maternal mortality ratios in East Africa for Burundi at 740 per 100,000 live births, Kenya at 400 per 100,000 live births, Rwanda at 320 per 100,000 live births, Uganda at 360 per 100,000 live births and Tanzania at 410 per 100,000 live births.
The under-five mortality ratios per 1,000 live births in East Africa for Burundi are 147, Kenya 74, Rwanda 103, Uganda 137 and Tanzania 81.
Meanwhile infant mortality ratios in the region, range from 51 to 91 per 1,000 live births as follows; Tanzania 51, Kenya 52, Rwanda 62, Uganda 89.4.
“The high mortality and morbidity can be explained in part by the fact that the vast majority of births still take place at home and are not attended by skilled attendants,” noted Dr Munduru.
Furthermore skilled attendance coverage remains relatively low in all the countries of the region with 43 per cent in Kenya, 58 per cent in Uganda, 51 per cent in Tanzania, 69 per cent in Rwanda and 60 per cent in Burundi.