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Last Updated: Tuesday, 30 May 2006, 00:51 GMT 01:51 UK
Plea for free Africa healthcare
By Jill McGivering
BBC News

A woman with her child at a feeding station in Niger. File photo
Many children in Africa die from preventable disease
A British-based charity has called for international donors to give specific long-term support to African nations in providing free healthcare.

The charity, Save the Children, says in a new report that almost 800 children die in Africa daily because they cannot afford to pay for medical treatment.

It says greater access to health services could make a huge difference.

It also points out that only limited progress has been made in abolishing health charges in Africa.

'Ineffective schemes'

Save the Children says the tide of international opinion on health fees is turning.

That makes this the right time to help more African governments implement universally-free healthcare and medicine.

The ability to afford basic medicines, vaccines and care is more acute in Africa than other parts of the developing world, the charity says.

Africa sees a higher proportion of child deaths from preventable disease than any other region.

Deaths from measles, respiratory diseases, like pneumonia, and malaria are all preventable - but still major killers in sub-Saharan Africa.

Some countries do operate exemption schemes so that high risk or vulnerable groups, like the very poor, do not have to pay.

But in reality, says Save the Children, they are rarely effective.

Those who support fees, even partial ones, argue that they are needed to recover costs - and that services given free would be overwhelmed.

But Save the Children says in many countries about half of the money raised is lost in administration costs.

There are some positive steps.

Earlier this year, the British government pledged $27m (15m) to Zambia for the next five years to help it make rural health care free of charge.

Last year, the G8 group of industrialised nations promised to work with African governments to abolish health fees.

But so far, says Save the Children, progress has been very limited.

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