Invest in health, African leaders told
By Alick Ponje in Kigali, Rwanda
Health experts have asked African leaders to increase investments in health.
Speaking during the opening of the fifth edition of the Africa Health Agenda International Conference (AHAIC) 2023 being held in Rwanda, the experts cited the proliferation of epidemics such as cholera as an indication that African governments have not invested enough in their health systems.
The conference is taking place in Kigali, Rwanda, from March 5 to 8 and its discourse is centred on the theme ‘Resilient Health Systems for Africa: Re-envisioning the Future Now’.
Outbreaks such as cholera, Ebola and Marburg were highlighted as among those demonstrating that Africa’s health security is always at risk.
Amref Health Africa Group Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Githinji Gitahi said the lessening of the Covid burden does not mean governments should relax.
“The climate crisis, which has increased [cases of] severe flooding and drought, unyielding conflicts, food insecurity, all worsened by a record level of internal displacement, has placed Africa at its worst in decades,” Gitahi said.
He then called for increased investments in Africa’s health systems so that they are resilient to outbreaks.
Gitahi said time has come for the health agenda of Africa to be made in Africa and not at global level because the continent has unique health challenges.
“We must look for local solutions, [in terms of] how we can finance our health systems. Communities must be engaged because they are at the centre of health systems,” he said.
The Amref CEO further said climate disasters such as droughts, famines and floods have further weakened Africa’s health systems, making families desperate.
He reiterated that while Africa contributes the least to emissions and global warming, it is the most vulnerable to its impacts.
“In the face of these complex and compounding crises, previous hard-earned progress is at risk – the systems we have worked hard to build threaten to fall apart,” Gitahi said.
Speaking earlier, at a press conference to set the tone for the conference, Director of Universal Health Coverage at the World Health Organisation Regional Office for Africa, Adelheid Onyango, said the cholera outbreak in countries such as Malawi should be seen as a development issue.
“We are seeing that climate change is linked to health. In fact, there are several sectors that are linked to health.
“In countries affected by cyclones and floods, the response matters. For instance, Malawi is witnessing a huge cholera outbreak and this worries me most.
“It is about how people access clean water; it is about investments in the water and sanitation sector. It is a development issue,” Onyango said.
Campaigners of improved health in Malawi have constantly argued that the cholera outbreak, which has so far claimed at least 1,600 lives, has raged to such levels due to the country’s failure to optimally invest in water and sanitation.
On February 13 2023, President Lazarus Chakwera launched a campaign to contribute to the reduction in cases of the diarrhoeal disease, whose current wave is the worst in the country’s history.
Through early case detection, rapid treatment and referral, home-based monitoring and risk communication, among other interventions, the campaign is said to have lessened cholera cases and deaths in the country.
AHAIC 2023 has been jointly convened by Amref Health Africa, Rwanda’s Ministry of Health, the African Union and Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.
Alick Ponje is a features writer at The Times Group. He graduated from the University of Malawi with a bachelor’s degree in education, majoring in literature in English. Follow him on Twitter @aponje