UN 150 years behind target on improving health — WHO

The World Health Organisation headquarters in Geneva. The WHO says health-related targets set under the eight United Nations Millennium Development Goals in 2000 would not be met by the 2015 deadline under current trend GENEVA (AFP) — UN targets to improve children’s health in poor countries within 10 years will take at least 150 years to achieve despite a concerted international effort to tackle mortality and malnutrition, the UN health agency said Monday.

The World Health Organisation reiterated that the health-related targets set under the eight United Nations Millennium Development Goals in 2000 would not be met by the 2015 deadline under current trends.

“The evidence so far suggests that while there has been some progress, too many countries — particularly the poorest — are falling behind in health,” WHO Director General Lee Jong Wook said in the progress report.

Despite goals of halving hunger or curbing child mortality, the situation has even worsened in some instances as poor countries struggle with chronic problems, according to the data in the report.

“We’ve got 10 years until 2015,” said Andrew Cassells, director of health and development at the WHO.

“When it comes to an issue like child health, if the present rate of decline continues it’s not going to take 10 years to achieve the goals, it’s going to take 150 years,” he told journalists.

Between 1990 and 2002 — the most recent data cited — the number of people with insufficient food went up by 34 million in sub-Saharan Africa, 15 million in south Asia, and by eight million in western Asia the report found. It fell by 47 million in east Asia.

More than half the children in south Asia are malnourished, while the average for developing nations in 2003 stood at one-third.

However, the proportion of under five year-olds who are underweight in south, southeastern and east Asia fell by nine to six per cent between 1990 and 2003, while in Africa it has barely changed (32 per cent).

“Growing populations and poor agricultural productivity have been the main reasons for food shortages in these regions,” the report said.

“Hunger tends to be concentrated in rural areas among the landless or among farmers whose plots are too small to provide for their needs,” it added.

While infant mortality rates fell in south Asia between 1999 and 2003, from 126 to 90 per 1,000 live births, they still remained at high levels — 172 per thousand live births — in the worst affected area, sub-Saharan Africa.

“For most countries, progress in reducing child deaths has also slowed because efforts to reduce malnutrition and to achieve full coverage with interventions against diarrhoea, pneumonia, vaccine-preventable diseases, and malaria have been inadequate,” the report said.

Under current trends, the WHO predicted that the reduction in mortality rates among under-five year olds between 1990 and 2015 would be about one quarter, well short of the two-thirds reduction sought.

“Even if the rate of reduction increased fivefold, the goal of a two-thirds reduction would still not be reached by 2015,” it added.

Efforts to tackle maternal mortality are also ailing, according to the WHO report.

The death rate of childbearing mothers is thought to have declined only in countries which already had the lowest rates, while some of the worst affected nations are even reversing course, according to the WHO.

The WHO estimates that 504,000 of the 528,000 deaths a year due to complications in pregnancy and childbirth occur in Africa and Asia.

Attempts to halt and reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS are also struggling, although prevalence rates in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa appear to be stabilising, the report said.

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