By MIRIAM ZIMBA –
WITH only a year to go before the due date for the Millennium Development Goals (MDG’s) in 2015, will the country beat this deadline.
According to the 2013 MDG report for Zambia, the country’s progress on many of the MDG targets has been encouraging.
However, the country is still confronted with challenges that hold the key policy and institutional reforms and consequently the over-all pace of implementation.
Millennium Development Goals (MDG’s) number two entails that the country should seek to attain universal primary education by 2015 by ensuring that both boys and girls complete the full course of primary schooling.
Education Minister John Phiri is hopeful that the country will be able to meet MDG two by 2015.
He explained that the country is country at 97 per cent school enrollment rate for primary school education.
“We are currently at 97 per cent for primary school enrollment, and our greatest concern right now is secondary school enrollment,” he explained.
In out-lining some of the strategies that government has put in place to achieve this target, Dr Phiri pointed out the robus construction and renovations of schools countrywide.
He observed that this is aimed at ensuring adequate school places in order to increase access to education.
He said although this programme has been hampered by insufficient budgetary allocations, government has remained committed to ensuring access to education for all children in the country.
Dr Phiri also pointed out that the recruitment of about 1000 early childhood education teachers as another measure government has put in place to help in ensuring increased access to early education.
He noted that a good number of these early childhood education teachers have been deployed to rural and remote areas, where their services are most needed.
He also outlined government’s commitment to training teachers to up-grade certificate holders and diploma holders to diploma and degree levels respectively.
He disclosed that in phase one of this project to up-grade teachers’ qualifications, about 2000 teachers across the country will be trained.
“This programme to upgrade our teachers’ qualifications is being done in partnership with the Daughters of Mary Immaculate (DMI) University, and it will be an on-going programme,” he said.
The minister said the biggest challenge was school enrollment at secondary school level, but was hopeful that the country will be able to increase school enrollment from the current 97 per cent, to 100 per cent by 2015.
And commenting on MDG’s four and five, which seek to reduce child mortality and improve maternal health respectively, Government has reiterated its commitment to ensuring improved health care.
Community Development, Mother and Child Health Minister Joseph Katema explained the purpose of having MDG’s is meant to act as targets that a nation should focus on in order to achieve improvements in sectors that it sets out for itself.
“These targets are not something static that once reached, then it marks the end, it instead helps us to be focused and to be able to improve our service provision,” he said.
Dr Katema explained that the ideal situation is that there should be zero maternal and child mortalities in the country.
He noted that as part of efforts aimed at improving maternal health services in the country, government has increased the budgetary allocation to the health sector in general, and family planning and reproductive health services by 50 per cent over a period of five years.
He also disclosed that government has also embarked on a countrywide scale-up of long acting reversible contraceptive (LARC) methods to people in rural areas, as a means to improve maternal health services.
He added that Government has also introduced the direct entry into midwifery, as a measure aimed at increasing the number of qualified midwives, who will be deployed to all parts of the country as way of alleviating the current shortage of human resource in the health sector.
“We want to ensure that all pregnant women deliver from health centres where they can be attended to by midwives, in order to ensure proper management of maternal complications to reduce the number of maternal deaths,” he said.
Dr Katema disclosed that his ministry has also scaled up child vaccination programmes such as the Rota vaccine immunization for the prevention of diarrheal diseases, as well as the launch of the national nutrition programme aimed at reducing child deaths as a result of malnutrition.
He explained that the deployment of qualified health personnel to health centres will also help prevent neo-natal deaths at birth due to rapid resuscitation of new born babies.
The country has also made progress in meeting the MDG’s through the reduction in the levels of HIV infections, as well as increased access to clean water and improved sanitation in the country.
There are looming concerns that the country may not be able to meet the MDG’s by 2015, despite the many areas in which Zambia has scored successes.
During the launch of the 2013 progress report on the MDG’s by the United Nations (UN) last year, Finance Minister Alexander Chikwanda reiterated government’s commitment to sustain and increase the momentum for the progress ahead of 2015.
This was despite having raised concerns about the current commodity prices, which could threaten the realization of the MDG’s.
“We will most likely not be able to fulfill the toll order of the MDGs by 2015 but we have made noticeable progress. Our aim is to sustain and increase the momentum of progress. With the current difficulties on the commodity prices front, the going will be quite stiff but we will fight on to better the lives of the people,” Mr Chikwanda said.
Some of the efforts the Zambian government has made include improving health, education, water supply in both rural and urban areas, as well as rehabilitation of rail and road infrastructure.
Former UN country representative Kanni Wignaraja said Zambia was however, making progress in realizing some MDGs targets such as those related to the health sector.
She underlined the need to address growing inequalities countrywide with a call for viable reforms and investments to realize goals like MDG One on decreasing extreme poverty by 2015.
Ms Wignaraja explained that the progress towards the attainment of MDG one, has been slow over the years, with levels of poverty having stood at 58 per cent in 1991, and dropped to 42 per cent in 2010.
She called for the need for more investment to realize the goal to reduce poverty by 2015.
She said Zambia was on right path in realizing MDG Six on HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis, although the infection rates among young girls has still remained very high.
Ms Wignaraja explained that maternal and child mortality in Zambia was still very high, with about 38 mothers dying each month due to pregnancy and child birth complications.
As regards to MDG three on gender equality and empowerment of women, the report indicates that the country is on track to achieve gender parity in education enrollment as well as literacy among 15-24 year olds.
MDG seven which seeks to gain the lost ground on environmental sustainability, land covered by forests in Zambia reduced from 59.8 per cent in 1990 to 49.9 in 2010.
This decline stems from over exploitation through logging for wood fuel and encroachment for agriculture settlements.
The country has implemented reforms since 1990 that have seen development, which is in line with MDG eight which seeks for the evolvement of global partnership for development as Zambia transitions to a middle-income country.
Zambia has graduated from a low-income to a lower middle-income country, meaning that the country now has less access to concessional lending and overseas development assistance
In this regard, particular attention must be paid to lessons learnt as well as interventions required to fast-track the attainment of the MDG’s in Zambia.