Exploring Eritrea’s Health Success Stories

Eritrea Health Success Story
Eritrea’s achievement in health sector create a promising prospects to child growth in the Sub-Saharan countries: UNICEF report

By Seare Habtemicheal,

The state of Eritrea, in the past couple of decades, has registered a remarkable success in the improvement of the people’s health status through its famous Health-for-all policy.

In just few independence years, the government has made an intensive effort in providing quality and accessible health care system and made a commendable achievement on the prevention of communicable diseases including malaria, HIV/Aids and most importantly immunization of children against the most deadly childhood diseases. 

As such, the country has registered a dramatic progress in the reduction of malaria morbidity and mortality rate. This overall reduction in malaria could be attributed to the well being of its people. The Health Ministry made relentless effort to increase public awareness and created high level of community awareness and participation.

MALARIA MORBIDITY AND MORTALITY:

Accordingly, annual trend of malaria cases, 1998-1999, for instance, showed a very significant reduction. Again, according to reports of the Ministry of Health, in the year 1998 the number of malaria cases was more than 250,000, and it dropped to 100,000 in 2001. While, in 2009 the number descended to less than 20, 000. As a result in 2008 the malaria accounted for just one percent of death of children under the age of five in Eritrea, and this is attributed as a measure success story as compared with the countries of sub-Sahara Africa.

The success was possible because the Eritrean National Malaria Control Program did its best on the prevention, early diagnosis and prompt treatment of the disease. The program included targeted distribution of insecticide-treated bed nets, which was provided for free to pregnant women, and region that are believed to be highly vulnerable to the disease, which in turn encouraged users. According to studies by the Ministry of Health, in 2007, some 78 percent of families living in malaria endemic regions used insecticide treated bed nets. However, it is also said that community agents treat about 80 percent of malaria cases in Eritrea.

Consequently, ever since 1999 malaria morbidity and mortality has dropped by more than 80 percent.

HIV/AIDS PREVALENCE:

Similarly, HIV/AIDS has been one of the dangers, threatening nations like Eritrea by killing the youths, their important assets for their progress and development.

Since its emergence as a haunting disease in the world, however, its prevalence among the poor world is posing a serious threat on the developing world. Most disappointingly, the disease is haunting the Sub-Sahara Africa nations. According to studies, globally, the infection has been serious that it stretched tens of folds from the record of 1990s, compared with that of 2008s.

For instance, in the past few years some 33.4 million people have been reported HIV positive, out of which, 22.3% are said to have been from below the Sub-Saharan region. Not withstand with the aforementioned facts, 2.7 Million newly affected people were reported in 2008, and around 2 million died in the same year.

In Eritrea, HIV/Aids was first identified in the port city of Assab, in 1988. Ever since, it was spreading itself at a steady pace. The Eritrean government’s response to the threat was swift. It established the National AIDS and TB Control Division to fight the threat. Later in 2010, based on four sentinel surveys, the Ministry of Health estimates trends in HIV/AIDS cases in the country have stepped down to less than one percent.

MATERNAL AND PARENTAL DEATHS:

The reduction of maternal and prenatal deaths which includes the provision of quality antenatal care and skilled assistance during delivery; post-partum home visits; care of the new born; expansion and equitable distribution and emergency neonatal and obstetric care services; provision of post abortion care; and so on and so forth. In this case the study on the maternal mortality ratio of the years 1990—2010 reveals that the ratio has declined from 998 per 100,000 live births in 1995 to almost 486 at the present.

Taking into account Eritrea’s maternal mortality estimates from 1990—2008, the World Health Organization (WHO) has listed the country as one of the few countries in the continent of Africa that are on their way registering the success needed by MDG5.  With an annual average reduction rate of 6.6 percent, the country is recorded 7th with 69 percent reduction in maternal mortality ratio, next Estonia (76%) and Equatorial Guinea (73%).

However, the UN estimates of Eritrea’s maternal mortality ratio is even far less than what has been reported by the national data, 246 per 100,000 live births (UN), and that is why the UN regarded Eritrea as one of the three African countries that are on the path to reach the MDG5 by the year 2015.

Moreover, based on reports of the Ministry of Health, Eritrea has also reduced child mortality from 81 per 1,000 in 1991 to 42 per 1,000 live births in 2010. Again under the age of five, mortality has reduced from 148 per 1,000 live births in time of the country’s independence to 63 per 1,000 live births this year.

This is quite a surprising achievement from a young nation that is struggling hard on the road to development and progress without any external assistance.

Hence, the United Nations in 2008 identified some 69 countries which should have dealt with the reduction of maternal mortality, child mortality, and neonatal, out of which 16 countries including Eritrea registered the track to success. The success for the young nation of Eritrea happened as the government, since independence, made ready quality health care that includes health facilities, schools, and a comprehensive package of low-cost, high—impact intervention to improve child health and quality survival.

IMMUNIZATION:

The breakthrough of the country’s great progress on the child mortality, therefore, happened as a result of a combination of methods. Normally, it was the responsibility of the Ministry of Health to immunize and care of children. Studies have revealed that the Ministry of Health immunization scheme reached almost 99 percent of children all across the country.

The introduction of large scale immunization and the integrated management of childhood illness protect children through vaccination. According to reports of the Health Ministry, immunization of children all over the country showed an increase from 10% during the day of liberation to 100% at present.

So far Eritrea has used expanded program on immunization as the most cost-effective intervention against measles, poliomyelitis, diphtheria, neonatal tetanus, whooping cough, tuberculosis. Moreover, hepatitis against hepatitis B, and a vaccine against hemophilus influenza type b, (Hib) was introduced in 2008. The ministry is on the way to introduce pneumococcus, and rota virus vaccinations.

Based on studies by the Ministry of Health, without immunization, 2% of children would have died from whooping cough, 3% from measles; 1% from tetanus and 0.5% percent would have been crippled from polio; and 20% of children would have missed their lives from neonatal tetanus.

However, with an intensive effort made by the government, Eritrea is now Polio free country. Measles has been the major cause of children’s mortality in the world making the death of millions of children between the ages of five and 14. As to the case of Eritrea, there used to be high death rate of measles before independence, took the lives of thousands of children.

Whereas, after independence, the number of immunized children steadily increased, bringing down the presence of the disease to almost zero at the moment, to the level where Eritrea received an award, in Hanoi, Vietnam in 2008. Measles, therefore, has been effectively controlled. It poses no more threat.

Eritreans are now grateful to their government and its development counterparts that made this health success possible.