NEW YORK - Drought in Somalia threatens the lives of almost half the population, according to Somalia’s Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khaire. Over a two-day span, at least 110 people died of hunger in just a single region in the country. This highlights the tremendous needs Somalia and other African countries have for immediate help.
In the last few decades, enormous financial resources have been sent to the region. What has been accomplished, however, is subject to controversy since what has been achieved appears to have been counterproductive to Africa’s actual needs.
In spite of the considerable progress achieved in the fight against HIV/AIDS, other health problems remain. Although the Ebola epidemic has been largely controlled, the potential for a new epidemic still exists. Countries are now better prepared to deal with a new outbreak, but probably not to the extent that a serious new epidemic would demand.
Tuberculosis is still rampant in South Africa, which has the highest tuberculosis death rate per capita worldwide, followed by Zimbabwe and Mozambique. Worse yet, the high number of cases of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis in several countries make the disease much more difficult to treat.
Five children under age 5 die every minute in the African region, two thirds of them from preventable causes. Diarrheal and respiratory infections, malaria, measles and malnutrition represent big threats to children’s health. Pneumonia and malaria are the leading causes of death among children under 5 years of age. The interaction of under nourishment and infection can lead to a vicious cycle of worsening illness and deteriorating nutritional status.
Health problems in Africa cannot be considered in isolation from the countries’ sociopolitical and environmental realities, and require continued foreign technical and financial assistance. Increasing efforts are needed to be made to expand access to primary health care, especially in rural areas, accompanied by health promotion, disease prevention and improved health education activities. The relentless exodus of physicians and nurses to industrialized countries only compounds health problems.
Despite some progress in the social sphere, some important difficulties remain. One of them is significant unemployment, particularly among the young. Around 70 percent of the population in Sub-Saharan Africa is under the age of 30, and 60 percent of the unemployed are also young people. New policies are indispensable to incorporate them into the labor force.
A first step is to provide youth with basic skills so that they can achieve their earning potential. UNESCO and the International Labor Organization have recommended that governments, international donors and the private sector develop integrated policies to create jobs for young people and ease the transition from school to work.
Poverty in the continent is widespread and affects most of the population. In 2010, more than 400 million people were living in extreme poverty across Sub-Saharan Africa. Currently, a notable proportion of women lack any significant income. The expansion of micro credit together with rural development projects mainly aimed at women could significantly improve the situation.
Education is another area of concern. Africa has the lowest rate of children in primary schools of any region. In addition to significant gender disparities, with girls far behind boys in educational attainment, geographical disparities between rural areas and urban areas, and economic disparities between low income and high income households are also significant.
Many experts on Africa don’t believe in the efficacy of aid. “Money from rich countries has trapped many African nations in a cycle of corruption, slower economic growth and poverty. Cutting off the flow would be far more beneficial,” wrote Dambisa Moyo, a Zambian-born international economist and author with extensive knowledge of Africa.
Aid, however, can become effective in improving people’s standard of living and education. It is critical to help African countries improve governance before providing financial assistance. In addition, effective aid must bypass corrupt governments and find ways of helping people in more direct ways, such as through community and religious organizations.
Although a considerable amount of money has been sent to Africa through bilateral and international aid, there are still no effective mechanisms in place to monitor and make recipients accountable for spending. This is a vital, since corruption is like a weed that saps the countries’ social fabric and energy. In addition, there are not enough ways to evaluate the quality of projects funded mainly by international lending institutions and U.N. agencies.
Aid to Africa should be aimed at strengthening civil society and community-based organizations. African countries need better trade conditions for their products and technical assistance that is carefully and responsibly planned. Provided with a generous nature, and energetic and hard working people, Africa is still a continent of hope.
Dr. Cesar Chelala, a public health consultant, has carried out health-related missions in more than 50 countries worldwide, many of them in Africa.