At the official opening of the 11th ordinary meeting of the assembly of health ministers of ECOWAS on Friday, President Koroma said for many million people “in the ECOWAS region particularly rural dwellers, herbal medicines or traditional medicines and traditional practitioners are often the only source of health care.”
He was Addressing a podium of health ministers from ECOWAS and other international delegates at the Miatta Conference hall in Freetown, at the 11th ECOWAS meeting of health ministers under the theme “Promoting Traditional Medicines.”
President Koroma stated that, our region has some of the worst child mortality and maternal health indicators, adding that too many communicable diseases and non communicable diseases are on the rise.
Our countries, he said, are also severely constrained in motivating and retaining health workers, leading to absence of skilled personnel in critical areas. Budgetary allocation to health care are below agreed targets; and there are still significant resistance to integrating traditional medical practitioners into our national health systems, he said.
He reiterated that the gathering “is a testament to our commitment to tackling these diseases.”
The Head of State, stated that “in the West Africa Health Organization (WAHO) 2009-2013 Strategic Plan some programmes have been identified as priority interventions to ensure effective use of limited resources”.
Notable among these, he noted are human resource development, maternal and neonatal health, epidemic response and disease control, essential medicines, and quite appropriately traditional medicines.
President Koroma reiterated that traditional medicine is readily available, affordable, and widely used by a vast proportion of people, adding that the practices of traditional medicine are supported by centuries of wisdom and experience and the practitioners are usually well known and respected by members of the community.
He emphasized that, “we have a serious problem when so many under-five children die for lack of access to medical facilities, noting that no nation can enjoy the joys of the family when its mothers die at childbirth”.
“I am pleased to state that we are inaugurating a free health care system for pregnant women, lactating mothers and children under-five in Sierra Leone on our independence day, April 27”.
In his statement, Nigeria Minister of State and Health and also Chairman of the Assembly of Health Ministers, Suleiman Bello, said that, the “meeting offers us a unique opportunity to examine how far we have gone in the implementation process and identify obstacles militating against the achievement of our health related millennium development goals.”
He reminded the gathering that the high proportion of countries with very poor health indices are located in West Africa. “Given the magnitude of the health challenges as well as the weak economies of many of our countries, perhaps now is the time to think out of the box and develop an integrated systems that is, multidisciplinary and multi-institutional in approach, which will improve access to quality health care,” he said.
The Health Minister stated that traditional medicine has a long history that dates back to thousands of years when compared to modern or orthodox medicine, adding that modern medicine have developed powerful methodologies for proving efficacy, ensuring quality and safety, whereas African traditional medicine despite its longer years of existence has an inadequate evidence base; when measured by these standards.
ECOWAS Vice President, Jean de Dieu, called on the Health Ministers to redouble their budgets on health matters.
Statements were also made by Vice President Sam Sumana and the Director General of the West Africa Health Organization.
By Abibatu Kamara