The Mali government will now deliver free health care for children under 5, pregnant women, and elders.
President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta announced the new health care reforms on Feb. 25, under which contraceptives will also be available free of charge, according to the Guardian.
The effort to revamp the country's system comes after the country suffered some of the highest maternal and child mortality rates in the world for decades. Tens of thousands of community health care workers will help support the initiative by offering localized services. Keïta increased the country’s health care budget to include an extra $120 million to help fund the reforms, but they won’t be implemented nationwide until 2022.
Yesterday, Mali’s President made a historic announcement: Mali’s national health care system will undergo a complete re-boot. The government committed to user fee removal for vulnerable groups, with paid, professionalized CHWs at the forefront. Read more: https://t.co/Mf3CVMQD2dpic.twitter.com/rDDkwi2PZO— Muso (@MusoHealth) February 26, 2019
“We needed to do this a long time ago,” Mali’s health minister, Samba Ousmane Sow, who is helping spearhead the reforms, told the Guardian.
“Mali also has very weak health indicators when you talk about malnutrition, poor family planning, poor sexual reproductive health, and primary health care like pre- and post-natal consultations, simple deliveries, and routine immunizations,” Sow said.
For the past 30 years, pregnant women and children in Mali, where 50.4% of people live on less than $1.25 per day, have had to pay for their own health care costs. Neighboring West African countries adopted similar pay-your-own models.
Living in poverty presents a challenge to treating the preventable diseases like malaria and pneumonia that often causes 1 in every 5 children in Mali to die before reaching the age of five. Children who do survive cases of malaria still put their communities at risk by spreading the virus, and if left untreated, might have a harder time getting through school. Providing pregnant women with preventative treatment like mosquito nets is key to stopping the disease.
Vice President of Global Health at the organization Save the Children, Robert Clay, met with Sow on Thursday to dicsuss Mali's new pledge.
"This commitment to the health and wellbeing of women and children will improve entire societies on the social, economic and human rights levels," Clay said in a statement to Global Citizen.
"This announcement comes at a time when there is a strong push for Universal Health Coverage which promises a world in which all people have access to the health services, vaccinations and medicines they need, without risk of financial hardship," Clay explained.
Introducing community health workers has already proven to lower child mortality rates by 95% in Mali’s Bamoka district, according to Dr. Ari Johnson, a science professor at the University of California, San Francisco, and co-founder of the Mali health NGO Muso.
“This is an incredible moment for Mali,” Johnson told the Guardian. “The ministry of health has taken a very brave and bold political move to make real, evidence-based health care change.”
As the country rolls out health care resources nationwide, there can only be even more progress from here.