There are many who believe economic growth to be the sole antidote for the rampant spread of deadly and destructive diseases throughout Africa. I, however, believe this to be a grave misconception. While the symbiotic relationship between a strong economy and a healthy population cannot be denied, the diseases currently plaguing Africa know nothing of our nation’s border. Why then, should our treatments and preventative measures stop there?
While we pursue economic growth, as governments, I believe we must also invest in the health of our people. Diseases must not only be prevented, but also eradicated, if members of a society are to make measureable contributions to their nation’s economic growth. At the same time, I believe it is essential that our efforts not stop at national boundaries. Disease spreads quickly across borders, national economies are inextricably linked and perhaps most importantly, our greatest hopes for meeting the persistent challenges in both of these areas lie in our ability to work together.
I am happy that the global community has come to appreciate the notion that longevity and wellness are key indicators of development. It is my belief that the MDGs represent a remarkable turning point in diplomacy, not to mention efforts to reduce poverty and spur development.
While there are formidable challenges to be met on many African fronts, including Tanzania, I believe the full MDG agenda represents concrete evidence of what focused diplomatic efforts can achieve, regardless of whether all the goals are met on time. As President, I am proud to support Every Woman Every Child, the UN Global Strategy designed to improve women and children’s health. It offers all of us an opportunity to improve the health of women and children. Like all leaders, I know that the health of women and children is directly related to the health of society. Access to family planning information, services and supplies is a critical part of improving the health of women and children.
As Co-Chair of the UN Commission on Accountability and Information for Women’s and Children’s Health, I recently had the opportunity to work with Prime Minister Stephen Harper of Canada, along with 30 commissioners from around the world, representing a range of stakeholder groups. As a commission, we developed a set of recommendations aimed at bolstering accountability and transparency around countries’ work toward MDG’s 4 and 5. The framework we developed places accountability right where it belongs, at the country level. It doesn’t stop there, however. This framework also relies heavily on the active engagement of governments, communities and civil society, with strong links between country-level and global mechanisms. While I believe country-level accountability is critical, in everything we do we must also have an eye to what is happening beyond our borders, the lessons that we can draw from the experiences of other countries as well as the opportunities we may have to work together to achieve change that benefits us all.
In Tanzania, the pervasiveness of malaria and HIV/AIDS reflects the close ties among economic growth, health and diplomacy.
The economic consequences of HIV/AIDS are well known, and, in Tanzania, we have substantial data reflecting the ways in which AIDS so often leads to social and economic disruption among affected individuals, families and communities. The poorest households are quite often the least able to cope with the impact of adult deaths due to AIDS, and are frequently unable to obtain even the most basic needs in the short term. This is to say nothing of the severe impact AIDS has been known to have on the nutrition, education, health and living standards of child survivors. In Tanzania, infection rates have declined from 18 percent in the 1990s to less than 6 percent today, and there is evidence this downward trend will continue. Over 13 million Tanzanians have counseled and tested for HIV since July 2007 when my wife and I launched a nationwide campaign for voluntary counseling and testing a fact which, I believe, serves as critical evidence of the reduced infection rates that we may yet achieve. These milestones could never have been reached, however, without our ongoing commitment to improving the health of our citizens. Now, meeting persistent challenges (such as ensuring the more than 40 percent of HIV-positive pregnant women receive the drugs they need to keep their babies HIV-free) depends on both our efforts in Tanzania as well as our continued commitments from around the world.
Like HIV/AIDS, malaria has been a major cause of death, as well as a major area for success in recent years. USAID recently reported, in its sixth update of the President’s Malaria Initiative, that its efforts to expand the use of insecticide-treated mosquito bed nets, indoor residual spraying, improved diagnostic tests and malaria medications has resulted in fewer child deaths from the disease. These findings are significant because they are not limited to children in Tanzania. Instead, this success has been experienced among children in Angola, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Uganda and Zambia, as well.
While we are eager to celebrate our successes in improving health while working closely with partners around the world, I know Tanzania still has a long way to go to ensure our children are able to not only survive, but grow into prosperous members of society. I am incredibly proud of the success that we have achieved since 1990, when 155 of every 1,000 children died before the age of five. In 2010, that number was drastically reduced to 76. Yet, I also know that continued progress will require even more hard work: we have achieved so much, yet our challenges have not diminished. Instead, reaching the remaining children with interventions like bed nets and PMTCT will require even better tools than we have used to date. Further, taking on challenges like childhood cancers, which we in Tanzania still know too little about, will require additional efforts to build awareness, make treatment more accessible and explore new possibilities for prevention.
I believe very strongly that improving health is critical to achieving economic growth and ensuring the benefits of society as a whole. At the same time, my position as President of Tanzania has provided me unique opportunities to take part in diplomatic efforts that will have an impact on health not only in Tanzania, or even in Africa, but around the world.