May 1, 2007

Donor praise for health and education expansion / Government calls private sector to help in education

Donors have praised the Mozambican government's success in 2006 in continuing to expand health and education services across the country. The Aide-Memoire, emerging from the annual review of performance by the government and those of its foreign partners who provide direct support to the state budget, noted that "access to primary education has continued to improve, and the net school attendance rate has reached 87 per cent" - somewhat higher than the target of 85 per cent. The net attendance rate for girls was 84 per cent, again surpassing the target (82 per cent). The main challenge for education "is to improve quality", the Aide-Memoire declared, "and to achieve that an increase in teaching hours is essential".
That meant eliminating the current system in which many schools are teaching three shifts a day, and ensuring that children enter school at the right age (six), rather than years later. The document urged the construction of more schools "to reduce the distances between school and the children's homes, particularly in the countryside".
The school building programme suffered a serious setback in 2006. Of the 1.467 new classrooms planned for 2007, only 26 were completed. The rest are still under construction, in large part due to the late disbursement of funds. As for health, the Aide-Memoire, which is the joint responsibility of the government and donors, pointed to a significant increase in the provision of the life-prolonging anti-retroviral therapy to HIV-positive Mozambicans. Over the year the number of people receiving anti- retrovirals rose from 27.000 to 44.100, and this treatment was available in 70 per cent of the country's 128 districts. But despite the political commitment to the fight against AIDS, "government funding in the HIV/AIDS area remains low", the document noted.
The allocation of state resources to the National AIDS Council (CNCS) declined for the third year running, and 90 per cent of the CNCS funds now come from foreign sources. Furthermore, the CNCS has proved unable to spend its money. Of the 28.2 million US dollars allocated to the CNCS in 2006, only 16.6 million (59 per cent) were spent. Although the number of health units able to offer the anti- retroviral treatment that prevents transmission of the virus from mother to child rose from 82 in 2005 to 222 in 2006, the number of pregnant women benefiting from this remained small. Only 12,150 women received this prophylaxis (eight per cent of the estimated need), and as a result of this low coverage about 30,000 children were born with HIV in 2006, half of whom are likely to die before they are two years old.
The Aide-Memoire also notes two alarming trends - an increase in maternal mortality, and a reduction in the percentage of births that take place in health units. This was despite an overall improvement in access to health service. The target for 18.7 million consultations in 2006 was surpassed, and the vaccination rate for children under one year old improved. The Memoire also claims "significant progress" was made in the financial sector in 2006, but admitted that banks scarcely exist in the Mozambican countryside. The number of branches of commercial banks rose from 219 to 231 - but overwhelmingly these are in the cities, and particularly in the Maputo-Matola connurbation. Banks only exist in 28 of the 128 districts. When it comes to private business, the Aide-Memoire notes "some advances in improving the business environment" - notably a sharp reduction in the time taken to start a business, which has fallen below the target figure of 90 days.
Before the release of the report, Education Minister Aires Aly has called on the private sector and civil society to help the government build classrooms wherever necessary and possible. Aly admitted that "about 500.000 children of school age, most of them in the rural areas, are still outside the education system". He added that the government is committed to expanding the school network, which implies increasing the number of classrooms and improving the quality of teacher training. The government's plan for 2007 is to spend about 16 million US dollars to build 1.400 new classrooms. The Education Ministry's National Director of Planning, Manuel Rego, complained that many children were still not at school is due to the shortage of teachers. "In primary education, even where there are no classrooms, if there are enough teachers, children can study under trees. We don't desire that, but we can work that way", he said. "In secondary education', added Rego, "in parallel with the shortage of teachers, there are also insufficient infrastructures, including classrooms, and laboratories, which is difficult to solve". (Agencia de Informacao de Mocambique, Maputo)

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