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China's "barefoot doctors" inspiration to Africa: WHO

KAMPALA, July 27 (Xinhua) -- China's "barefoot doctors" who helped deliver the basic medical services to the country's extensive and remote rural areas can be an inspiration to Africa's slashing its high maternal and infant mortalities, a WHO senior official has said on the sidelines of the African Union summit being held here.

"One of the lessons that Africa can learn from the Chinese experiences is that the country's medical services were closely delivered to its people by the barefoot doctors and experiences of providing services at the community level," the World Health Organization (WHO) Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health director, Flavia Bustreo, told Xinhua in an exclusive interview.

"In fact, some of the countries making progress in Africa like Ethiopia for example, have really borrowed the lessons they have from China," she said. "They have created a health extension with health extension workers that they have quickly trained and deployed in the rural areas. That is the major lessons they have really looked for and learnt from China. "

Chinese barefoot doctors are farmers who received minimal basic medical and paramedical training and worked in rural villages in the country. They brought health care to rural areas where urban- trained doctors would not settle, promoting basic hygiene, preventive health care, and family planning.

Bustreo said the other important lesson for Africa to learn from China is that China is able to provide access free and that is critical.

With five years to go to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, she said, a number of African countries have made significant progress in reducing maternal and infant mortalities, including countries with low income, for example, Malawi, the chair of this year's African Union Summit.

"More than five countries in Africa are achieving already or on truck to reduce the child mortality," she said.

Bustreo, a world-renowned physician, said the data this year had shown that it was very clear the association of HIV/AIDS and maternal death was really staggering, which she called a major challenge that is facing specific challenge for the continent.

She said the African leaders in 2001 in Abuja agreed and committed to what is called Abuja target. They are implementing 15 percent of their budget for health and several countries have made progress and even in fact some have surpassed 15 percent like Rwanda for example is already above 18 percent."

"However, if you have a country which is of a low income and even if they arrive at 15 percent of their budget for health, then in absolute terms we are still talking about less than a dollar per capita per year," she said.

"But from the World Health Organization we have estimated that the least you need is 40 dollars per capita per year to achieve the results we are discussing."

"So there is a gap here that really needs to be filled not only by additional investments by the government itself but also by other partners, by private sector, by foundation and other stake holders that are commit to this agenda."

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