Board Chair of the GAVI Alliance
I met her in Kabul. Suraya Dalil had just been approved by the Afghan Parliament as the new Minister of Public Health. As of January this year she is also a GAVI board member. She has been serving the hard to reach people in hard to reach areas throughout her medical career, not only in her own country, but also through UNICEF in such places as Somalia. One out of three female members in her government she carries one of the toughest posts in the whole cabinet.
They are really hard to reach, many of Afghanistan’s children. This poor and mountainous country, so tired of war and conflict, is working every day to give all their young inhabitants a basic health package. Between 15 and 25 percent of the population has no access to immunization services. Two thirds of the vaccination is carried out through outreach and mobile services. However, DPT3 Coverage has been increasing substantially over the last ten years thanks to a close partnership with civil society organisations and funding from GAVI among others.
Now Dr.Dalil has set out on a journey to build a health system that can better ensure basic coverage to all. There are huge communications challenges and human resource shortages in the country. One of her main strategies is building the skills of health workers such as midwives and other Public Health officers. The cold chain so critical to an efficient immunization system needs to be strengthened.
Minister Dalil has a rough road ahead. There is certainly hope. Recent survey data indicate that the record high child mortality rates have dropped substantially the last few years. But there is much more to do. The plan is to introduce pneumococcal vaccine in 2013 and rotavirus vaccine in 2014/15. - We are working hard to fulfil the conditions that will make this happen, the minister told me.
Afghanistan is in a phase of transition. As the Afghans resume more and more responsibility for their own security, they will still need strong support and cooperation to build services to their people. The civil society organisations will have a key role to play in areas like public health. Other partners should also stand ready to support the plans developed by Dr. Dalil and her team.
I am certainly looking forward to work with our new GAVI Board member as she is taking on the huge task of reaching every Afghan mother and child with basic public health interventions. Her voice on behalf of partner countries will help to enable GAVI reach the overall goal of granting every child access to basic vaccines.