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Committed Partnerships Are the Best Way to Ensure all Africans Have Access to Life-Saving Surgical Procedures

As Mercy Ships (www.MercyShips.Africa) marks 30 years of service on the continent, providing free surgical care, training, and support from its hospital ships to local development projects in Africa, its Africa Bureau Director Dr. Pierre M’Pele calls for continued vigilance and tireless pursuit in the efforts to improve the level of health of African populations.

Life expectancy across Africa has increased by 10 years since 2000 — a result of interventions such as the implementation of the 2000-2015 Millennium and successful commitments made by national governments in the framework of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 2015-2030. Working to serve the greatest number of people in a sustainable way, having a people-centered vision, and planning for greater investment in health as part of national development programs, in conjunction with good democratic governance, stability and economic growth have also positively influenced health indicators across the continent.

“We must absolutely celebrate these positive results, however, we must be cautious and avoid complacency, because this positive news is a tree that hides the forest,” says Dr M’Pele. “One-third of clinical conditions in Africa require surgical, obstetric, and anesthetic care, and yet there is less than 1 surgical specialist per 100,000 inhabitants, so surgery is a particularly neglected component of health systems in Africa. It is a critical area where much improvement needs to be made. While much of the world is looking to the latest technologies to improve their clinical care, we are saying that in Africa, there is still a lot of work to do to increase the number of qualified, specialized, and dedicated doctors and nurses too.”

Access to quality, safe, and affordable surgical, obstetric, and anesthesia care is a luxury in most African countries, and especially for the poorest populations. The challenge of equity and the integration of surgical and anesthesia care into national health systems are prerequisites for achieving Universal Health Coverage in Africa.

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