While the economy grows, social indicators in Gabon lag behind. Consequently, the government has committed to developing a national health policy to improve access to quality health care. To pursue this goal, Gabon has devised a national health plan 2011-15 (Plan National de Développement Sanitaire, PNDS), to accelerate reforms and give the country a boost towards achieving its Millennium Development Goals by 2015.

Although talks of implementing the PNDS began in 2005, a plan was not created until after the 2009 presidential elections aligned with the Emerging Gabon strategy. The PNDS retains eight of the 12 objectives outlined in the government’s national health policy, including what the authorities see as the country’s main health burdens, notably HIV/AIDS and malaria. HIV/AIDS: In its fight against the pandemic, the government approved a 150% budget increase, from CFA1bn (€1.5m) to CFA2.5bn (€3.75m), for its HIV/AIDS programme in June 2011 and announced free anti-retroviral treatment. There are now 12 outpatient treatment facilities across the country, including three in Libreville and one in each province. However, these facilities often face stock disruptions. More than 12,000 people currently receive treatment for HIV/AIDS, it is estimated that more than 22,000 need the service.

The sector’s weak statistical system is another problem to tackling the disease, Salvator Niyonzima, UNAIDS’s country coordinator, told OBG, “Strengthening the system for statistics and data collection is necessary to understand the epidemic and allow Gabon to realise its objectives.” The Ministry of Health’s (MoH) 2012 demographic and health survey will include a national survey on the pandemic that goes beyond simply measuring its prevalence in pregnant women and transmission rates from mother to child to include all segments of the population, giving a fuller picture of need.

MALARIA PREVENTION: Children under the age of five remain the most vulnerable to malaria, accounting for 68.9% of those admitted for treatment of the infection. According to the MoH, only 15% of people infected by malaria seek treatment. The government is committed to increase awareness and boost prevention methods such as the use of insecticide-treated bed nets. Statistics from UNICEF show that 55% of children under five slept under a bed net between 2006 and 2010.

More recently, a broad awareness campaign was carried out in Gamba in partnership with the national programme for malaria prevention and the town’s public hygiene services. The campaign was part of a three-year programme first launched by the MoH in 2009 and financed by Shell Gabon and the United Nations Development Programme. The anti-malarial vaccine that is being developed at the Albert Schweitzer Hospital in Lambaréné is one of the country’s most awaited innovations. The vaccine is being manufactured by the British pharmaceuticals firm GlaxoSmithKline and research is carried out by the University of Tubingen and financed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. So far, the vaccine has protected against malaria 56% of the time, and 46% against severe malaria.

PARTNERSHIPS: In fighting pandemics, Gabon has received support from a number of international partners and non-governmental organisations. In addition to UNAID, Gabon also has a bilateral agreement with the Société Civile Gabonaise, which provides support for the government in its fight against HIV/AIDS and provides patients with psychological and social support. The UNDP is active in helping reduce the urban-rural divide under its community health project (Projet de santé communautaire), particularly in the Ogooué- Maritime province. The French Development Agency offered Gabon $13.13m to help fund the PNDS, with the bulk of this allocated to improving health planning, enhancing maternal and paediatric health, and fighting HIV/AIDS. Finally, the international health unit of the University Hospital of Montreal, present in Gabon since 2001, offers technical support to boost regional health care and has committed to helping Gabon achieve its goals under the PNDS. It hosted training sessions for hospital personnel in 2012 as part of its work.