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Africa indexes significant progress in refining health outcomes: ECA

LONDON ––Last Friday, the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) said that the African continent had made considerable progress in improving health outcomes over the past few decades.

Vera Songwe, the Executive Secretary of the ECA, made the remarks while addressing a high-level health-themed meeting in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.   The United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) organized the conference.  

Songwe said, from 1990 to 2015 life expectancy in Africa increased from 54 to 63 years.

The ECA executive revealed that the number of women dying in childbirth and the number of children dying before the age of five nearly halved during the same period.

But the ECA boss added that while the signs of progress made in the healthcare sector are laudable, efforts should be strengthened to achieve global and continental targets.

“Although this progress is commendable, it is not rapid enough to achieve the health-related sustainable development goals by 2030,” Songwe said.

The ECA boss said, “Ethiopia too has been a witness to progress on health outcomes,” Songwe said, adding that “The maternal mortality ratio declined from 871 deaths to 412 maternal deaths per 100,000 in the period 2000 to 2016.”

The under-5 mortality declined in Ethiopia from 166 deaths to 67 deaths per thousand live births from 2000 to 2016, Songwe revealed.

According to the organizers, the High-Level meeting was part of the “Africa Health Week” that is in line with the African Union (AU) heads of state and government summit.

The African Health Week meeting brought together Africa’s public health policymakers, stakeholders as well as global and regional private sector operators.

Abdul Fattah al-Sisi: Egyptian president may rule until 2034

Egypt’s parliament has overwhelmingly voted to approve draft constitutional changes that could extend President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi’s time in office by another 12 years.

Mr. Sisi is due to stand down in 2022 when his second four-year term ends.

But 485 of the country’s 596 lawmakers voted on Thursday to lengthen presidential terms to six years and let Mr. al-Sisi serve another two.

Several Egyptian human rights groups have spoken out against the decision.

The changes, first proposed earlier this month, will now be drafted into legislation and put to another parliamentary vote. If approved again, Egypt will then hold a referendum.

What are the changes?

Article 140 of Egypt’s constitution, approved in a referendum in 2014, currently states that the president serves four-year terms and may only be re-elected once.

But under proposed changes, the 64-year-old leader would be allowed to stay in power until 2034.

He would also get new powers to appoint judges and the public prosecutor.

The changes would also give Egypt’s military broad powers to “[safeguard] the constitution.”

Other amendments included the introduction of a second parliamentary chamber, a 25% quota for women in parliament and “appropriate representation” for minority Coptic Christians, young people and those with disabilities.

How are people reacting?

President Sissi’s supporters in parliament argue the longer term limits are needed to allow him more time to complete economic reforms and development projects.

But his critics fear it is an attempt to further entrench his rule in the country.

Eleven Egyptian human rights groups, in a joint statement, said the provisions were “disingenuous attempts to sugarcoat [the government’s] authoritarian power-grab.”

Signatories include the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies and the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms.

Lawmakers have also spoken out against the vote.

“We are placing absolute powers in the hands of one person… at a time when the people were expecting us to give them ‘bread, freedom, social justice and human dignity’,” Ahmed Tantawi, an opposition MP, said on Wednesday, using the slogan of the 2011 uprising that overthrew then-President Hosni Mubarak.

Mr. Sisi, a former army chief, led the military overthrow of Egypt’s first democratically elected president, Mohammed Morsi, in 2013 following protests against his rule.

Since then, he has overseen what human rights groups say is an unprecedented crackdown on dissent, leading to the detention of tens of thousands of people. Mr. Sisi recently denied detaining any political prisoners.

The president has also led a military campaign against Islamic State militants in the country’s the Sinai Peninsula.

He was re-elected last April after winning 97% of the vote, facing no serious competition because several rivals dropped out or the government arrested them. 

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Michael Harrington

Michael Harrington is a researcher and senior contributing reporter with Globe Afrique Media.

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