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The occasion of the Opening of the South Wing, Nairobi Hospital, on Friday 13 June 2008, Statement by Mrs. Anna Tibaijuka, Under-Secretary-General Executive Director, UN-HABITAT
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Dr. Chris Obura, Chairman, Nairobi Hospital Board.
Dr. Cleopa Mailu, CEO Nairobi Hospital
Ms. Janet Mathiu, Matron and Director, Nursing Services
Doctors, Nurses, Staff, Students and media.

Your Excellencies,
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great privilege and honour for me to address you today at the opening of this wonderful South Wing Executive Ward. What I have seen here represents a triumph of modern technology and good design for the benefit of hospital patients. It puts the facilities offered in this city right up there with the best Africa has to offer.

I would like you all to show a big hand of applause to those who made this dream come true. [Thank you].

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is important that we keep striving to do the best, indeed always to go that one step further than we think we can, when it comes to improving our health facilities. So I kindly ask you to indulge me briefly this afternoon with a few words on health matters from the United Nations vantage point.

At UN-HABITAT, the agency for the urban development which I head, our research shows that today half of humanity is living in towns and cities. We are now living in a new urban era. We are entering a new phase in history.

It is projected that by 2030 that figure will rise to two-thirds. This urbanisation is unprecedented, rapid, and irreversible. And hospitals like this are crucial to our survival in this world.

Another feature of the new urban world is that the global number of slum dwellers has now reached the 1 billion mark. Did you know, for example, that more than 70 percent of people in African cities live in slums? Are you aware that urban poverty is now becoming a severe, pervasive – and largely unacknowledged – feature of modern life on our continent?  That huge numbers of people in towns and cities are suffering levels of deprivation often worse than those experienced by the rural poor?

The locus of global poverty is moving to the cities. It is a process we call the urbanisation of poverty. It is our view that sustainable management of our rapidly growing cities starts with people's health and dignity.

Yet, Kenya, like much of Africa enters the new urban era with many fundamental conditions of human development unmet. It is unbelievable, but true, that a resident of Kibera, earning less than two dollars a day, pays as much as five times the price paid by an average North American for a litre of water. An African school girl is often forced to trade her education for water. Sanitation can be far more than a public health issue to her: it determines her privacy, safety and dignity; it determines whether her potential to become a productive citizen in society will ever be fulfilled.

The great Nobel laureate, Archbishop Desmond Tutu rightly observed, and I quote: "No issue has ever been more neglected. And it has been neglected because it is of concern mainly to the poor and the powerless" – especially women and children.

The latest indicators give a measure of the health crisis we are confronting: It is a shocking fact that sub-Saharan Africa today has the world’s highest maternal mortality rate, with more than 900 mothers per 100,000 dying in childbirth. According to figures compiled by UN health agencies, it is still more shocking that this figure has shown virtually no improvement since 1990.

Another terrible indictment of our health care is that the mortality rates of children under five in developing countries are 10 times higher than those in the developed countries. Again in sub-Saharan Africa, it is the highest in the world. And it is no surprise that five diseases – pneumonia, diarrhoea, malaria, measles and HIV/AIDS account for more that 50 percent of all child deaths.

The chances of contracting any or one or a combination of these diseases are compounded by poor living conditions and poor health services. Medical research by the World Health Organization confirms the fact that income distribution by is a more powerful determinant of health and mortality than the overall wealth of nations. When it comes to our children under five, the ratio of child deaths in slum areas to those in non-slum areas is consistently high in all developing countries, even in those like Kenya that are making progress towards reducing child mortality.

I feel duty bound before this distinguished audience to ask ourselves how heavily we rely in Kenya on what are called out-of-pocket payments by patients to finance their health care systems. These payments include fees for services levied officially or unofficially by public and private providers. They also include payments to make up insurance shortfalls. It is a system that prevents poorer people receiving the health care they need. It is particularly problematic in cities, and in some cases, these fees can be high enough to cause financial catastrophe and impoverishment, especially in cases of severe illness or major injury.

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is important as we walk through this magnificent health facility, that we keep in mind the fact that Member States of the United Nations in 2005 endorsed a resolution calling on all countries to develop health financing systems which ensure that people have access to health care without risking financial ruin and impoverishment.

This new centre with its state-of-the-art technology proudly shows us that Kenya is more than capable of living up to its international health commitments.

At a personal level let me acknowledge that my late husband was a patient after being referred from Dar es Salaam. Nairobi Hospital therefore serves this entire region.

Your progress is not only for Kenya but the entire region.  Well done. 

I thank you for your kind attention.

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