Mozambique News Agency
President Armando Guebuza, launching
his Presidential Initiative for the Health of Mothers and Children, has called
for action to tackle the conditions that cause 11 Mozambican women to die every
day due to complications arising during pregnancy and childbirth. In a year,
the death toll adds up to 3,840 women for every 100,000 live births 480
President Guebuza read out these sombre figures on 20 February, at a meeting with health workers at the launch of the initiative, through which the government hopes to speed up a reduction in maternal and infant mortality, and to promote family health.
President Guebuza mentioned that some African countries have worse maternal mortality rates than Mozambique, such as Mali where 1,000 women die for every 100,000 live births.
Yet there is nothing inevitable about shockingly high death rates. In developed countries, death during childbirth is extremely rare. President Guebuza cited Ireland where there are now just two maternal deaths for every 100,000 live births,
"Of all health indicators, it is the maternal mortality rate that most reveals the gulf between developed and developing countries", remarked the President.
The main direct causes of maternal deaths in Mozambique are haemorrhages, uterine rupture, sepsis and eclampsia. It was on these complications that the greatest attention must be focused, urged the President.
"The death of a mother is a tragedy in a family, and a great loss in the community, because she is the moral, social and economic support of the family and the community", declared President Guebuza. Pregnancy and childbirth were not illnesses, and so maternal deaths "are one of the worst tragedies in any society, since they can almost always be avoided".
As for the infant mortality rate (deaths among children before their first birthday), President Guebuza put it at 178 per 1,000 live births. Almost 30 per cent of these deaths (48 per 1,000 live births) took place in the first month of life. The main cause of this neonatal death rate, President Guebuza noted, were premature births, low weight at birth (often caused by malnutrition of the mother), asphyxia, sepsis, congenital syphilis, and other illnesses inherited from the mother.
President Guebuza told his audience he had not come with ready made answers, but was "here to listen to your ideas, to understand what you have to tell me about what needs to be done".
Responding to the President's appeal, health workers and students pointed out that the country still has an inadequate health network. There are simply not enough hospitals and health centres, particularly in the countryside. Matters are made worse by a lack of ambulances and poor roads, making it difficult to transport women with complications to hospital.
Problems in the electricity and water supply sometimes made it difficult to guarantee a safe and hygienic birth. The health service, they added, also suffers from a shortage of staff, and a lack of incentives for health workers.
The health workers reaffirmed their willingness to improve maternal and child health, but called for the community to change its attitude towards pregnant women, mothers and children.
In response President Guebuza recognised the difficult conditions facing health workers, and accepted that an improvement in their working conditions will lead to better care for mothers and their children.
The Presidential Initiative is directly related to two of the eight Millennium Development Goals, approved by world leaders at the United Nations Millennium Summit in 2000, Goal four is to reduce the rate of mortality among under fives by two thirds, and Goal five is to reduce the maternal mortality rate by three quarters by the year 2015.
A document from the Health Ministry notes that among the social factors contributing to maternal deaths are the premature marriage of girls and high levels of violence against women and children "practiced in the home, but tolerated by the community".
The Mozambican government will shortly submit to the country's parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, an amendment to the 2008 budget, in order to include a subsidy on the diesel used in urban passenger transport.
When privately owned minibus (colloquially known as "chapas") fares rose by up to 50 per cent on 5 February, this provoked serious rioting in Maputo during which four people died. According to Filipe Coimbra, the chief nurse at the emergency services in Maputo Central Hospital, 108 people were treated for injuries in the hospital for injuries sustained during the riots, of which 68 had been shot
The seriousness of the riots led the government and the Federation of Road Transport Associations (FEMATRO) to restore the old fare. But FEMATRO demanded compensation for the lost fare rise, so the government agreed to subsidise the diesel used by chapas.
Announcing the decision on 23 February to amend the budget, Finance Minister Manuel Chang argued that the reduced price of diesel for private transport operators was not a subsidy but "compensation", because the private transport operators have agreed not to put up their fares.
The price rises were a result of high world oil prices. However, after rescinding the price rises the government and FEMATRO agreed that chapa operators could buy their diesel at the price of 31 meticais a litre, and not the market rate of 35.35 meticais.
Despite these moves the owners of the chapas went on strike on 25 February in protests at the government's alleged failure to honour its promise of a fuel subsidy. Tired of waiting, for the subsidy, chapa owners in Maputo and the neighbouring city of Matola went on strike much to the surprise of both the government and FEMATRO.
The government is intending to pay the subsidy at the end of each month after the owners present their licence and the receipts proving how much diesel they have used. The government suspects that the people behind the strike are unlicensed (and thus illegal) operators, who know that they will not benefit from the subsidy until they regularize their situation.
A FEMATRO representative appealed over the radio for all chapa operators to resume work, assuring them that they will receive the subsidy. Both the government and the FEMATRO officials urged unlicensed operators to apply for licenses.
To obtain a chapa license its owner needs to present the document proving he owns the vehicle, and the insurance certificate. No insurance, no licence.
The riots in Maputo have led to copycat riots in Chokwe, Chibuto and Jangamo.
On 11 February at least one person died and five others were injured in rioting in the town of Chokwe, in the southern province of Gaza. The rioters were protesting against the high cost of living and against the increase in fares charged by the chapas although, just as in Maputo, that fare increase has been suspended.
Hundreds of rioters stormed Chokwe's largest informal market, known as "Senta Baixo". Breaking into small groups, the rioters erected barricades, and set heaps of tyres alight in the streets, in obvious imitation of the 5 February riots in Maputo.
They marched on shops in Chokwe, but the owners quickly locked their doors and put up the shutters. Most of the damage was thus restricted to the market, where stalls were looted.
The mayor of Chokwe, Jorge Macuacua, said it had been impossible to enter into any dialogue with the rioters, or find out what their real grievances were.
Since nobody took responsibility for the demonstration, there was nobody for the authorities to talk to. "That's why it's not clear what the group really wanted", said Macuacua.
One Chokwe businessman, speaking on conditions of anonymity, was much more scathing. He claimed that the riot was organised by people who had been repeatedly detained by the police, but had escaped from prison before coming to trial. "None of them can complain about the cost of living, since they don't even work", he said. "They're simply opportunists. They heard about what happened in Maputo, and they wanted to do the same thing here".
On 12 February disturbances spread to the town of Chibuto, and the district of Jangamo, in Gaza and Inhambane province.
The rioters attacked the main market in Chibuto, looting several stalls and destroying shop windows. They also threw up barricades on the main road into the town, preventing access to Chibuto for part of the morning.
There are no reports of deaths or injuries, but the police say they arrested 12 of the protesters. The local police commander, Francisco Taimo, said the police were able to prevent any worse damage, because they were already on a state of alert. Police officers were stationed at strategic points in Chibuto before the riot began.
The Chibuto district administrator, Zacarias Soto, said "it's unclear what the group of protestors wanted".
In Jangamo district, protestors mounted barricades at Malaica on the country's main north-south road. Traffic was interrupted for several hours before the police cleared the road. Again the specific objectives of the protesters were not at all clear.
There have also been minor disturbances in Bobole, in Marracuene district, 30 kilometres north of the capital, and at Manjacaze district in Gaza province.
President Armando Guebuza on 18 February stressed that, although the country needs to produce biofuels, they must never be allowed to endanger food security.
Addressing a meeting of the Consultative Council of the Ministry of Agriculture in Maputo, President Guebuza insisted that biofuels are to solve problems, not make them worse. "Biofuels must never endanger the interests of the people", he declared. That meant in particular that Mozambique must not allow biofuel production to deprive farmers of their land.
President Guebuza called for biofuels to be grown on marginal land, and not on fertile soils appropriate for growing food crops.
In 2005, the government set up a Commission on Biofuels, which recommended producing ethanol from sugar cane, sorghum and cassava, and using jatropha, sunflower, coconut, soya and African palm oil as raw material for biodiesel. Currently the Commission is drawing up a strategy on the matter, which should be ready by June, and will be placed before the government for approval.
As for the "Green Revolution" the government has promised, President Guebuza said some progress has been made, but not enough. He was particularly concerned at the continuing long delays in granting farmers title to their land. President Guebuza stressed that means must be found to speed up the granting of land titles, and increase the number of farmers who have formal title to their land.
Greater attention must be paid to all matters that could weaken implementation of the Green Revolution strategy, he said. He was critical of some of the documents placed before the meeting. Thus one referred to the challenge of increasing the availability of meat and milk to supply the domestic market, but failed to mention how much milk and meat is currently imported. President Guebuza argued that, if the country is to achieve "food sovereignty", it must know how much of any given foodstuff is required and after meeting the domestic demand, draw up plans for possible exports.
Nor was President Guebuza impressed by a simple mention of the number of rural extensionists in the country. The question, he said, was to know how many extensionists are required in each of the country's 128 districts, so that each district can commit itself fully to the government's agricultural strategy.
The head of a visiting delegation from the Executive Board of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Age Bakker, has called for Mozambique to do more to exploit its mineral resources, which he regards as the
country's greatest wealth, as a means to ensure its socio-economic development.
Bakker was speaking in Maputo on 21 February, shortly after his delegation had been received by President Armando Guebuza.
Mozambique has to find ways of making its mineral resources bring greater benefit to the country, insisted Bakker. He suggested a number of mechanisms, including more transparency in the management of public resources, and the adoption of policies of decentralization and good governance.
He describes Mozambique as doing very well economically. However, there were still serious challenges to be faced, because the results of economic growth are not yet reflected in people's lives. He argued that Mozambique should be able to make use of the benefits of mega-projects, which must be developed in a transparent fashion.
"Only thus can people benefit from the country's economic growth" Bakker said. "Mozambique is a country rich in mineral resources that may help it develop in the next few years. But the challenge will be to design the projects in a transparent manner, so that they benefit the majority of the people".
There are 24 directors on the IMF Executive Board, representing countries or groups of countries. Bakker is the director from Holland, and the delegation included directors from Greece, Russia, China, and France.
The Japanese government, through the Japanese Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC), is prepared to grant funds for the development of the Nacala Special Economic Zone in the northern province of Nampula.
The pledge was reiterated during a meeting in Maputo on 19 February, between representatives of JBIC, the government's Investment Promotion Centre, and of the Office for the Accelerated Development of Economic Zones (GAZEDA).
The Nacala Special Economic Zone, which covers the port of Nacala and the adjoining district of Nacala-a-Velha, was created in 2007.
During the meeting the participants analysed experiences of Special Economic Zones in various countries, including Vietnam.
CPI director Mohamed Rafique told the meeting that "we already have infrastructures that must be exploited for the Nacala Special Economic Zone to be a development pole of Mozambique and the region', he said.
Minister of Public Works, Felicio Zacarias, said in Maputo on 14 February that the government can improve its interventions in the area of water resources to respond to the development challenges facing the country.
He was speaking during a ceremony to launch the World Bank's Strategy for Assistance to Water Resources in Mozambique between 2008 and 2011.
The head of the World Bank project team, Len Abrams, said that to implement this strategy Mozambique needs $120 million, of which the World Bank will contribute between $20 and $35 million, while Mozambique and its other development partners will provide the remaining sum.
Zacarias explained that the launching of this strategy comes after the government has approved key guidelines, including a national water resource management strategy, a "Revised Water Resource Policy", and a set of regulations on water licensing and concessions. "These legal instruments were drafted taking into account the most recent developments in water resources at world level, in the Southern African Development Community region (SADC), and in the country", he said.
He added that the strategy also takes into account Mozambique's hydrological characteristics, and it responds to the country's vulnerability, notably its heavy dependence on rivers shared with other countries. Nine major rivers flow through Mozambique, and all but one of them rise outside the country.
For her part, the World Bank's country programme manager in Mozambique, Susan Hume, said that the strategy includes recommendations for interventions by development partners and for the assistance by the World Bank in the sector of water resources during the 2008/11 period.
The study includes measures to increase the positive impacts of water supply in the reduction of poverty.
About 100,000 HIV-positive people in Mozambique are now receiving the life prolonging anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs, through a variety of projects, many of them funded by the United States, in all 11 provinces, according to a report in "Noticias" on 22 February.
Lisa Nelson, head of HIV/AIDS programmes with the US Centre for the Prevention and Control of Diseases in Mozambique, expressed satisfaction with Mozambique's "impressive" efforts to fight against the AIDS pandemic. She said that this positive situation will improve even further in the coming few years, particularly if the Health Ministry and the National AIDS Council (CNCS) keep up the level of material commitment they have been showing so far.
Nelson told "Noticias" that "the United States is directly supporting about half of the units that offer ARVs through various partners operating in the provinces, in coordination with the Health Ministry. We are happy, because about 100,000 people are receiving the anti-retroviral treatment".
Established in Mozambique in 2000, the Centre has been directly supporting treatment with ARVs, initiatives for income generation for people with AIDS, prevention of HIV, and also the designing of strategies for the fight against HIV/AIDS.
It is estimated that there are currently 300,000 people in Mozambique who are now at the stage of HIV infection where anti-retroviral treatment is recommended. The hope is to cater for all of them in the near future.
Among the obstacles to achieving this goal is the fact that most people infected with HIV are unaware that they are carrying the virus. The expansion of ARV therapy also requires expanding facilities in the health units and training more staff.
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