July 2014 TheDailyObserver; It is a common argument that health is everything and without it, no development can take place. It is also a common saying that the wealth of a nation highly depends on the health of its citizenry. Thus, it is fitting to state that health is one of those indispensable sectors that determine the progress of any nation. Cognizant of these realities, the Jammeh Administration has since its birth in 1994 been consistent in prioritising the sector and continues to invest colossal sums of money into it as a way of modernising it and meeting the demands and expectations of the fast growing population.
Through its Ministry of Health and Social Welfare and other development partners, the Revolutionary government has been relentless in its efforts to achieving “Universal Quality Health Coverage for All in The Gambia”. Since the advent of the July 22nd Revolution, the health sector has leapt from being a mere basic healthcare service delivery to a comprehensive well-structured system. Over the past 20 years, the Jammeh Administration has placed huge emphasis on the scaling up of services and reaching out to the communities, especially hard-to-reach areas, coupled with strengthening of basic and comprehensive healthcare services to meet the targets of the Programme for Accelerated Growth and Employment (PAGE), the Vision 2020 and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The strategy employed here is “Universal Coverage” – that is universal access to quality healthcare delivery at the doorstep of every Gambian. During the colonial era, there were only eight health facilities in the country of which two were hospitals. This figure in the First Republic had increased to a mere 28 facilities still with only two hospitals.
But with the coming of the July 22nd Revolution, this figure phenomenally catapulted to 91 health facilities, out of which six are hospitals. This indicated that the regime built four new major referral hospitals that are strategically located to ensure “Universal Coverage”. Currently, projects are well underway to construct four new health facilities to be completed in 2014. As part of the continued efforts to achieve “Universal Coverage”, vital lifesaving equipment has been installed at the Edward Francis Small Teaching Hospital and other places.
The implementation of the ‘Universal Coverage’ has also seen the recent deployment of 17 Gambian medical doctors – who were trained at the University of The Gambia – to hospitals and major as well as minor health centres across the country. The gains of the Second Republic in the health sector were recently attested to by the outcome of the Demographic Health Survey (DHS) and others. The DHS revealed that infant and under five mortalities rates were 75/1000 and 99/1000 live births respectively in 2005, but in 2013, these indicators were 34/1000 and 54/1000 live births respectively. These figures indicate that The Gambia has for the past six years registered reduction in infant mortality by 54% and for under five mortality by 45%. Maternal mortality rates were estimated at 1050 per 100, 000 live births in 1999, but this dropped to 433 per 100, 000 live births in 2013, indicating a 59% reduction over the past 14 years, according to the same survey.
Under the Second Republic, The Gambia has been registering very high immunisation rates above 90% for all the antigens for children. During the First Republic seven traditional antigens were offered on the routine immunisation. But in the Second Republic, this has increased to 13 antigens, which include the very important HIB, Penta, Rotavirus and Measles Second dose. The Gambia is among the first countries in Africa to introduce these vaccines into their routine immunisation schedule. The Gambia under the Jammeh Administration has successfully conducted nationwide vaccination against Meningitis A in 2013 and several immunisation days for Polio vaccines. Today, The Gambia is a Polio-free nation.
Jammeh’s government, it would be recalled, has championed the formation of the African Public Health Emergency Fund (APHEF) which is managed by World Health Organisation (WHO).
This Emergency Fund is currently being utilised in the form of financial and technical support for those countries with cases of Ebola in the West African sub-region.
The government through the Ministry has also registered huge successes in the provision of services for promoting and protecting the vulnerable members of the society, especially women and children in difficult circumstances and those with disability. Very recently, a National Social Protection Policy and Implementation Plan was developed and launched to strengthen Gambia’s gains in social protection. The government of The Gambia has also ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability. The Gambia government continues to provide free mobility aid and artificial limbs to disabled persons. Through the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, the government has established a ‘One-Stop Centre Care Services to Victims of Gender Based Violence’ which is aimed at offering comprehensive services including temporal housing, counselling, legal, and healthcare services all within the centre. It has established two shelters for children, one home for the elderly, and a helpline for protection of children and persons in difficult circumstances.
In addition to this, an ‘interagency handbook on child protection, child protection manual and after arrest procedures for children in contact or in conflict with the law’ was developed and trainings were conducted for stakeholders. Child Justice Committee has also been established and supported.