Health minister praises accomplishments without citing studies [Archives:2008/1153/Local News]

May 8 2008

By: Alia Ishaq
SANA'A, May 5 ) Minister of Health and Population Abdulkarim Rasa' says Yemen's health service coverage has improved from 56 percent to 78 percent, although he admits that this information isn't based on any recent studies.

The minister spoke at the Women's Media Forum in Sana'a as part of a continuing lecture series aimed at “breaking the isolation of media women” from policymakers and those who affect development and modernization in Yemen.

Other lectures in the series have been given by diplomats, representatives of international non-governmental organizations, governmental officers, ministers and political party leaders. During his talk, Rasa' praised Yemen's decreasing child mortality rate, which he said fell. However, according to UNICEF's 2007 report, child mortality rates have only fallen from 132 deaths for every 1,000 live births in 1990 to 100 deaths for every 1,000 live births in 2006. The UNICEF report labeled Yemen's progress “insufficient” to meet its Millennium Development Goal target of 46 deaths for every 1,000 live births by 2015.

However, Rasa' criticized the Yemeni government's budget, which allocates only four percent for health care, adding that the government spends the equivalent of only $8 on each citizen.

Yemen's gross domestic product was estimated at $52.61 billion for 2007, although the latest available data from the United Nations Development Program reports that less than 2 percent of this amount is spent on health care.

UNDP's human development report also states that the average Yemeni salary is approximately $2,400, of which $82 is spent on health care.

Questioned by one female journalist about the poor conditions in Yemeni hospitals, Rasa' replied that hospitals aren't the Health Ministry's responsibility, but rather overseen by the governors of each province. “We have no right to change anything at any hospital,” he stated.

Rasa' also mentioned that Yemen has made efforts to eradicate polio by holding vaccination campaigns in all 21 governorates targeting 1.35 million children under age 5. He added that the World Health Organization will declare Yemen free of polio by 2009, if no new cases are reported.

The health minister further noted that the national campaign to combat measles has vaccinated 9.5 million children, although these advances are unreported and not according to formal study. “There are no studies now, however, a study will be conducted soon to show such improvement,” he said.

Regarding malaria, Rasa' pointed out that Yemen has succeeded in reducing annual infections from 30,000 to 5,000, in addition to declaring Socotra Island malaria-free, although at one time, 60 percent of the islanders suffered from the disease, he said.

However, UNDP's human development report calls Yemen, “A country with high incidence rates of malaria and tuberculosis,” but adds that recent efforts have helped bring malaria and TB under control.

The minister also addressed the problem of early marriage in Yemen, citing the case of Nujoud Ali, which this newspaper broke last month. “After hearing her story, I drafted a law for Parliament,” he said, “however, there wasn't a positive reaction.”

He warned that both the media and religious leaders should be doing their best to make citizens aware of such harmful social habits.

Asked about Sheikh Abdulmajid Al-Zindani's claim about discovering a cure for AIDS, Rasa' responded, “While we encourage scientific research by any Yemeni citizen, Al-Zindani hasn't provided us with any research,” adding that he believes Al-Zindani merely was seeking media attention.