An Overview of Eritrea’s Progress towards Health Security

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April 17th marked “World Health Day,” in which, in Asmara, the Ministry of Health (MOH), in collaboration with the local offices for the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF, held a seminar in Orotta Hospital to discuss the importance of universal health coverage and the steps towards progress that Eritrea has been taking.

A banner that highlighted the theme of this year’s conference boldly stated “Health is a human right. It’s time for universal health coverage.”

In a speech she gave, Dr. Josephine Namboze, WHO representative, referenced this quote by pointing out the fact that this year’s theme is a duplicate of last year’s. She affirmed that this was not a coincidence but rather a statement of commitment to signify the fight for health coverage around the world. Eritrea’s strategy of health security, Dr. Namboze maintained, is one of the few successful implementations seen throughout the African continent – a strategy that appears to be destined to reach the UN’s end goal of universal health care prior to the anticipated deadline of 2030. The reason Eritrea’s approach towards health security is so fruitful, Dr. Namboze reasoned, is because people of all kind are involved and represented throughout the process. This is an arguable necessity if the objective is to have a stable health system that can cater to any and everyone’s medical needs.

So what are the tried and true methods of health care that Eritrea has been enacting?

In 2018, Eritrea’s MOH launched a five-year National Action Plan for Health Security (NAPHS) that utilized the tools and guidelines set forth by the WHO in order to expand on the above achievements. The plan is aimed at detecting epidemic illnesses prior to their becoming a national or worldwide threat. This is through strengthening and sustaining Eritrea’s capacity to prevent, detect, and respond at a rapid rate. The reason the plan was developed was because of a Joint External Evaluation (JEE) provided by the WHO that acknowledges technical health areas that are sustainable or that may need to be worked on. According to the NAPHS document, upon finding out that there were major gaps in core technical areas, the WHO was requested to help the MOH in creating a strategy that would contribute to the sustainable development goals (SDG’s). The theme of “One Health Approach” was applied upon the design of the document in order to strengthen the goal of health security for the whole society.

In detail, this past November, the MOH, in collaboration with the local WHO office, launched a vaccination campaign for measles, with the success in immunization being globally applauded. The program promised a delivery vaccination to around one million children under fifteen years old – a coverage of around 95%. Additionally, earlier this year, the MOH held a workshop on antimicrobial resistance in order to raise awareness on prevention control and use. The workshop included participants from both political and economic sectors in order to address and educate on the topic effectively. For years, Eritrea has also been lauded for having one of Sub-Saharan Africa’s lowest HIV/AIDS rate. Prevention of the infection has been the primary focus of Eritrea, with the country directing its efforts towards safe sex promotion, counseling, and education on the illness. These steps towards health care reach the millennium development goal of fighting against tough illnesses. In reference to the sustainable development goal of ending preventable deaths of newborns and children, Eritrea has made progress in improving child mortality through expanding access to antenatal care and boasts one of the lowest mortality rates within the region. Similarly, Eritrea has successfully expanded maternal care access through efforts like providing mobile clinics in remote areas.

In reference to the “2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,” promoted in 2015, the UN has been attempting to eradicate global poverty and achieve sustainable development worldwide. Within the past decade, Eritrea has been striving to achieve these sustainable development goals (SDG’s) put in place by the UN. Impressively, milestones have been reached at quite a rapid pace, with Eritrea accomplishing all three millennium development goals, including reducing child mortality rates (MDG 4), increasing maternal health (MDG 5), and combatting major diseases (MDG 6). Additionally, movements toward attaining universal health coverage have been set in motion with an increase of health centers (such as hospitals, clinics, etc.) emerging around the country – even doubling in number since prior to Eritrea’s liberation. This makes health care accessible to anyone, anywhere as the nearest health center can be found within just five kilometers. Although the country has much left to work on in the hope of providing a universal and thorough health care system, Eritrea is making massive strides towards creating an overall protected and healthy public.