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[ADDIS ABABA] Scientific interventions can help prevent the spread of communicable diseases and address other health problems in the Horn of Africa’s cross-border and pastoral communities, an international conference has heard.

The 1st International Scientific Conference on Health for member states of the Inter-governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) that was held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, this month (3-6 December) brought together scientists, policymakers, pastoral communities of the region and partner organisations.

“Extreme poverty, abject living conditions, and unmet family and community needs especially among the pastoralists and cross-border hard-to-reach populations are a recipe for conflict, internal displacement, migration and instability.”

Mahboub Maalim,   Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD)

Delegates heard that scientific and evidence-based approaches are needed to guide future interventions to address health and related social problems disproportionately affecting pastoral and cross-border populations in the Horn of Africa.

Ethiopia’s minister for health, Kesetebirehan Admassu, noted that HIV/AIDS, polio, onchocerciasis, guinea worm disease and now Ebola, are major health threats in the IGAD region.

Admassu said previous attempts to eradicate diseases already wiped out in other parts of the world were not successful in the region because of cross-border mobility of the people, low disease surveillance systems and weak health infrastructure.

Admassu told the 300 participants that maternal, child and reproductive health are among the least addressed issues in the largely hard-to-reach and marginalized pastoral and mobile populations in IGAD member states: Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Uganda.

Mahboub Maalim, IGAD’s executive secretary, said: “Extreme poverty, abject living conditions, and unmet family and community needs, especially among the pastoralists and cross-border hard-to-reach populations are a recipe for conflict, internal displacement, migration and instability.”

Maalim added that the conference provided an important opportunity to bring fresh scientific insights for empirically-informed decisions and policies to guide future interventions and the coordination of regional and sub-regional programmes and strategies.  Fathia Alwan, the manager of IGAD’s health and social development programme, said the geopolitically volatile, conflict-plagued and ecologically fragile region cannot achieve peace and security without addressing equitable and accessible health services, clean and sustainable water supply, food and nutrition security and functional literacy.

Mathias Some, president of the African Federation of Public Health Associations, said many countries in the IGAD subregion  face immense challenges due to  their weak health and socio-economic systems.  

Some participants called for evidence-based recommendations to assist national, regional and international stakeholders achieve “health for all populations” in the subregion.

Among the presentations were studies highlighting the vulnerability of cross-border and pastoralist communities to communicable and non-communicable diseases and the status of reproductive health and other social services in the hard-to-reach areas.   

Other issues discussed included the efficacy of early warning and surveillance systems to control epidemics, innovative practices for addressing health problems and interventions to control communicable and non-communicable diseases.   

This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's Sub-Saharan Africa desk.

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