Health Minister Launches over US$8 Million Project

By Amie Sanneh

The Minister of Health and Social Welfare yesterday, Wednesday, 17 Septemeber, 2014 launched a US$ 8.68 Million grant from the World Bank to implement a Results Based Financing Project called Maternal and Child Nutrition and Health Results Project.

The project which is being secured by the National Nutrition Agency and the Health and Social Welfare Ministry is to be implemented in 24 health facilities and 400 communities in the Upper River, Central River and North Bank West Regions.

In his launching statement, the Health Minister, Omar Sey, said the project is expected to support the long term objectives of reducing maternal and child mortality and under nutrition and thereby contribute to the attainment of MDGs 1c, 4 and 5. He said the day marks an important event in the history of the Health sector in its drive to provide quality health service to the people.

“It is of paramount importance that the project interventions will focus on strengthening community structures and the PHC system to enhance the quality and quantity of services by empowering individual women, communities and front line health workers to improve uptake, participation, caring practices and accountability for maternal and child nutrition and health outcomes,” he said.

On the selection of the beneficiary communities, the Health Minister noted that the selection of the regions was based on authentic findings conducted during the past few years on the social determinants of health and nutrition across the country. “These three regions currently account for about one third of the total population or approximately 600,000 people. Over the five-year period of implementation, the project is expected to reach approximately 183,000 children under five and 180,000 women aged 15-49 years,” said the Health Minister.

To achieve the expected improvement in health and nutrition outcomes, he added that this project will prioritize interventions directly linked to the reduction of maternal and child under-nutrition, morbidity and mortality.

The Health Minister said despite the remarkable achievements registered under the health sector since 1979 to date, the sector is still facing a number of challenges such as high population growth rate, increasing morbidity and mortality, high rates of malnutrition especially among children, insufficient financial and logistic support, deterioration of physical infrastructure, inadequacies of supplies and equipment, shortage of adequately and appropriately trained health staff, high attrition rate as well as inadequate referral system.

Despite these challenges, Minister Sey said some improvements have been registered in the area of maternal and child health and nutrition. He noted that according to the Demographic Health Survey (GDHS 2013), Maternal mortality ratio has reduced from 730/100000LB in 2001 to 433/100000LB in 2013, Infant mortality has reduced from 75/1000LB in 2001 to 34/1000LB in 2013, Under five mortality has reduced from 99/1000LB in 2001 to 54/1000LB in 2013 and Exclusive breast feeding has increased from 33.5% in 2010 to 48% in 2013

Speaking earlier, the Task Team Leader, Rifat Hassan from the World Bank, said they know from surveys and reports that the health and nutrition situation in The Gambia has not kept up with developments in other sectors in this country. Many outcomes on the health and nutrition of women and children have either stagnated or even deteriorated over the past decade, she said. She said the Government of The Gambia and the Bank started to discuss the challenges in the health and nutrition sectors as far back as 2012. At that time, she added, the Government and the Bank were partnering in the nutrition sector through the Rapid Response Nutrition Security Improvement Project – implemented by the National Nutrition Agency.

Madam Hassan said a healthy child needs a healthy mother to nurture it during pregnancy and care for it during infancy and childhood.

“Yet many mothers are not all that healthy, suffering from conditions such as malaria, anemia, other nutritional deficiencies and reproductive health complications. Tragically, many mothers do not survive the risks of pregnancy and childbirth, most often from causes that are totally preventable. Every pregnancy poses risks to the mother and her offspring – something that we have learned over and over again,” she added.

She said investing in improved health and nutrition of women and children has significant impact beyond just health and nutrition and can actually help eradicate poverty and spur economic growth. “The economic returns of this type of investment are high, often even higher than building roads or providing electricity. Therefore, it is an absolute necessity for The Gambia to invest in women’s and children’s health and nutrition if it ever wants to become an emerging economy on the African continent,” she remarked.

She assured the Ministry of their support towards the implementation of the project.

The Executive Director of NaNA, Modou Cheyassin Phall, said the project is another milestone in the development of health and nutrition in the country. He stressed the need for health and nutrition to be embraced to ensure a healthy nation and that children are able to go to school and learn, farmers are able to go to the farm and do farming.

Mr. Phall also used the opportunity to highlight some of the key milestones of government/ World Bank collaboration in health and nutrition over the years.

Present at the launching ceremony were the Ministers of Youth and Sports, Fisheries, Agriculture, Regional governors, National Assembly Members and a host of other guests.