The majority of the inhabitants of Southern Red Sea Region are nomadic, thus it is not difficult to imagine the extent of efforts required to ensure the availability of healthcare services to all inhabitants. In line with the provision of universal healthcare all over the country, a number of health centers, clinics and hospitals have been built and renovated in different parts the region. Despite the nomadic lifestyle of the inhabitants, the Ministry of Health is registering commendable achievements in providing general health care, including reducing maternal mortality rate, preventing communicable diseases and enhancing the public’s awareness. Shabait conducted an interview with Dr. Afwerki Berhe, Head of the Ministry of Health branch in Southern Red Sea region. Excerpts follow:
Can you brief us as to the general status of the health sector in the Southern Red Sea Region?
Most of the inhabitants of the Southern Red Sea region are nomads and the rest are fishermen settled along the coast. At first it was difficult to provide health services to a population so vastly scattered around the region. Moreover, public awareness of basic health information was too low, irrespective of the available services. Consequently, maternal and child death rates and the incidence of other diseases was quite high. Thus constant advocacy meetings and campaigns were conducted to upgrade their awareness so that they can benefit from the available health care facility in their area.
As part of the ongoing to find ways around the lifestyle of the inhabitants, in 2006 the Ministry of Health set out to build maternal waiting homes, temporary home for expecting mothers. Expecting mothers are admitted there for 2 months to follow up their medical checkup and deliver there safely. We have 9 maternal waiting homes in this region. During their stay in maternal waiting homes, mothers are provided with everything they need because they are far-off from home. This maternal waiting home is a life-saving service for these nomadic mothers. As a result of this, maternal and child death rate is decreasing from time to time. In addition to this the population is becoming more aware of the advantages of health service, thereby taking better advantage of the provided health services.
Tell us about the distribution of health centers in the region?
The Ministry of Health has as much as possible to ensure uniform distribution of health centers, considering the nomadic lifestyle of the inhabitants. We have one referral hospital in Assab and 2 community hospitals in Tio and Edi. The Ministry of Health is presently striving to renovate the hospital in Tio so as to provide surgery and other advanced services to the inhabitants. We also have a number of health stations. Overall, there are 22 health centers in the region.
Whenever the people move from place to place in search of better environment, they usually are not as motivated to visit the health centers. So our main concern is how to settle these nomadic people and provide health services near them.
You have mentioned that one of your major concerns in the region is to reduce maternal mortality rate. Are there any other health problems that are of equal concern?
As we know, this region is bordered with Ethiopia, Djibouti and Yemen and these countries have poor surveillance system when it comes to communicable diseases. Thus, their impact on this region could not be seen lightly. Any cross-border disease especially HIV/AIDS, Malaria, Sexually Transmitted Infections, and TB could easily creep their way into our region. For this reason the Ministry of Health is effectively undertaking vaccination programs in collaboration with different partners. Every quarter of the year (3 months) health personnel are sent to remote and easily inaccessible areas to check whether the immunity level of the people is high or not, as part of the immunization program the Ministry of health is executing. And if the immunity level is high it is unlikely for these people to get infected by cross-border diseases. So far the immunity system is high in this region.
How is the branch office of this region addressing the problem of FGM?
We are very much committed to addressing the issue of FGM. We have 33 villages where we have anti-FGM focal person. Campaigns in collaboration with religious leaders, elders are also having a decisive impact in anti-FGM campaign. The communities’ attitude towards FGM is changing from time to time.
What other activities are carried out as part of the health promotion program?
As I mentioned earlier reducing maternal mortality rate is of great importance to us, thus we have registered traditional birth attendance (TBAs) in remote areas of the region. We give these TBAs continued training as regards to encouraging mothers to go to health stations, the consequences of delivering without the assistance of a professional, to immunize children and other issues. We also have a scheme through which we award these local health promoters who send more expectant mothers to health stations. There is now a sense of competition among the local health promoters to encourage more expectant mothers to go to hospitals.
Moreover, we held a symposium regarding maternal health care last year where elders and village chiefs participated. This has brought a significant change among the community.
What about the state of human resources in the sector. Do you have enough skilled technicians?
Well we have enough for now, but we are also giving a number of training programs in collaboration with relevant partners to relieve any shortages.