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Health progress and challenges, 30 years after the Alma-Ata Declaration

UNICEF Image: Ann M. Veneman, Health
© World Health Organization/2008
UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman (centre) and World Health Organization Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan (left) with youth delegates to the conference marking the 30th anniversary of the Alma-Ata Declaration on primary health care.

ALMATY, Kazakhstan, 15 October 2008 – At the global health conference marking the 30th anniversary of the Alma-Ata Declaration on primary health care, UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman said that health systems had to be scaled up through dynamic collaboration among governments, international partners, non-governmental organizations and the private sector.

Veneman said combating disease and improving health in developing countries is being enhanced by new technologies, service-delivery mechanisms and partnerships.

"New tools such as vaccines against pneumococcal and rotaviral diseases, new drugs to combat malaria and HIV, and ready-to-use therapeutic foods have enhanced the potential to combat disease and under-nutrition,” she said.

‘Decimated communities and countries’
The conference coincided with World Food Day which highlights the plight of the world’s hungry and under-nourished. “Nutrition is vital to overall health,” Veneman said, adding that maternal and child under-nutrition is a contributing cause in one-third of all deaths of children under five.

The UNICEF Executive Director also stated that the emergence of HIV and AIDS is a critical change in the global health landscape.

UNICEF Image: Vaccination, Nigeria, Polio
© UNICEF/HQ07-0232/ Nesbitt
A health worker administers an oral polio vaccine to student Asiya Aminu outside the Mallam Mohammed Koranic School in Nigeria. The support of religious leaders in the country helps increase awareness and participation in health campaigns.

"Since the last meeting here, HIV/AIDS has decimated communities and countries, especially in southern Africa, and remains among the greatest threats to survival and health,” she said. “Two million people died from AIDS in 2007.”

Success measured in lives saved
In 1978, the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF jointly hosted a conference in Kazakhstan that resulted in the Alma-Ata Declaration – in which primary health care was defined by leaders as ensuring that everyone, regardless of where they lived, whether rich or poor, was able to access services and conditions necessary for realizing the best possible health.

Today, representatives of more than 60 countries, plus Veneman and WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan, attended the conference in Almaty. Youth delegates from around the world have also gathered in Almaty to take part in the conference and present a set of recommendations on key health issues that affect young people.

"Health is the very foundation of productivity and prosperity,” said Dr. Chan. “Balanced health within a population contributes to social cohesion and stability.”

Veneman also emphasized the importance of measuring progress through health data and surveillance systems, so that countries increasingly base their health-system development and investment on achieving concrete results for women, children and families.

"Success will be measured in terms of lives saved and lives improved," Veneman concluded.




14 October 2008:
UNICEF correspondent Guy Degen reports on the launch of a World Health Organization report on primary health care.
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