I am returning to my blog after a month of intensive work preparing for one of the two big annual policy discussions with the Ministry of Health. The meeting was held last week, on the 16th July, at the hotel right next to the DFID office in downtown Maputo. Over a hundred and fifty people participated, including government, donor agencies and a large number of NGOs and civil society organisations. There had been a concerted effort to get civil society participation, and attendance was good, with active interventions from MONASO, an HIV/AIDS advocacy organisation, and from Forum Mulher, who spoke about gender and health and the importance of getting Mozambican men more involved in family planning.
The meeting was also the first big public speaking opportunity for my new boss, Keith Mackiggan, who took up his post at the end of June after a period of intensive Portuguese language training. Keith was based in Basra, Iraq before coming to Mozambique, and Vietnam before that. The language training has certainly paid off, as Keith delivered a very well received speech on behalf of all the development agencies that support the health sector in Mozambique.
His speech highlighted Mozambique's commitment to reduce inequity and raised concerns about the high HIV prevalence and the need to ensure access to condoms. Keith also highlighted the importance of the Ministry of Health in the elaboration of the new national HIV/AIDS strategy, and he welcomed progress being made to improve financial management and efforts to address the on-going challenge of reducing maternal and child mortality and increasing access to sexual and reproductive health, in particular to family planning.
I have attached a picture of Keith with the Minister of Health, Prof, Dr. Paul Ivo Garrido. The Minister, in his speech highlighted the challenges facing Mozambique. He spoke of the success in managing a difficult cholera epidemic in the early part of the year, where deaths from cholera were kept to low levels.
Minister Garrido also highlighted the on-going challenges of expanding the number of health centres and increasing the number of health workers. 56% of Mozambique's population still walks for more than an hour to reach the nearest health facility, some having a journey of over 50 km. The focus of the meeting however was on the plans for 2010, as the purpose of the meeting was to approve the strategic plan for the health sector for next year.
In the margins of the meeting, Keith also spoke to Mauricio Cysne, the Director of UNAIDS in Mozambique and Leila Pakkala, Country Director of UNICEF (both seen here with Keith). Mauricio stressed the important role that the health sector must play in HIV prevention as well as treatment and care. Leila highlighted the importance of responding effectively to malnutrition, which is a key determinant of ill health.
It's not all been hard work though: I managed to squeeze in 5 days holiday in the Drakensberg Mountains a week before the policy dialogue. What a fantastic place! I have attached a photo of the range of mountains known locally as the amphitheatre, as this massive wall of mountains curves around the edge of a plain like the huge back wall of a theatre. The short break really helped recharge batteries for what has been a very intensive week of preparation and a very satisfying full day of open and frank discussion. I think I can recommend both South Africa as a holiday destination, and Mozambique as an exciting place to work!