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Conference on Social Health Protection in the East African Community

East African Community: Ministers of Health
East African Community: Ministers of Health

Ministers of Health from the East African Community Countries (Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda) and delegates gathered from 11 to 13 September, 2012, at the Serena Hotel in Kigali, Rwanda, for the Regional Conference on Social Health Protection in the East African Community (EAC) .

The conference focused on the sharing of best practices, from countries within the EAC and others, as well as discussion of a framework for harmonization of Social Health Protection across the partner states. The Conference concluded with the signing of a statement of support for Social Health Protection by the Ministers of Health from the EAC partner states.

The Conference commenced with welcome remarks from Dr. Agnes Binagwaho, the Minister of Health from Rwanda. Keynote speakers from providing for Health then provided conference participants with an overview of the concepts and dimensions of social health protection and how the mechanisms of social health protection can be used in the EAC to achieve universal coverage and access to quality health care.

Examples of successful universal coverage schemes in Thailand and Ghana were presented; speakers emphasized that there is no one model of social health protection that will be successful in every nation, but that participants should take lessons from the example countries and adapt to fit their own country context.

The experience of the European Union in Social Health Protection harmonization across countries was also used to provide a perspective for similar harmonization in the EAC.

Presentations from the EAC partner states allowed Conference participants and distinguished guests to have a brief overview of social health protection in their neighboring countries, and encouraged discussion of best practices in the EAC. Participants expressed concern at the inability of nations to cover costs resulting from chronic and non-communicable diseases , such as cancer and renal failure. The resulting debate emphasized on importance of good governance and smart financial management, as every country faces limited fiscal means. The Conference questioned the feasibility and effectiveness of mandatory enrollment, the importance of creating an attractive benefit package to encourage and motivate enrollment was also highlighted.

Rwanda has been among the first countries in Africa to introduce the pentavalent vaccine which combines DPT/HepB/Hib 3 in 2002. Rwanda was the first development country to introduce in its routine immunization programme the pneumococcal vaccine at countrywide in 2009. Also Rwanda was the first country in Africa to introduce in 2011 at countrywide the human papilloma virus vaccine (HPV) to prevent cervical cancer to Rwandan young girls. A total of eleven antigens are available in Rwanda routine immunization program.

Workshops, taking place alongside the Conference allowed participants an opportunity to discuss various common challenges in Social Health Protection and to make recommendations for partner states. The conference sessions covered discussions on the development of a regional strategy for harmonizing Social Health Protection , stakeholders engagement, and country capacity development. Terms of Reference were developed for a study on Social Health Protection harmonization in the region.

The Conference recommended (among other recommendations) to establish a mechanism of coordination of Social Health Protection systems across the EAC partners states, including harmonization of quality standards, strengthened Social Health Protection and benefit packages, and a common vision among partner-states towards universal coverage. Cohesion of stakeholders and recognition of various sectoral roles were also mentioned as an important component of harmonization.

The conference concluded with the signing of a Ministerial Statement on Social Health Protection in the East African Community. In the statement, the Ministers of Health from the partner states agreed to develop a forum to regularly discuss best practices, and to establish a regional committee to oversee SHP strategy and collaboration. In addition, a meeting was proposed to discuss synergies in the production of medicines and medical products in the EAC, as well as organizing cross-regional studies to analyze and support SHP policies.

On the final day of the conference, participants were given the opportunity to visit the Rwandan Social Security Board and a community-based health insurance (CBHI) scheme in Gicumbi District, Nothern Province.

Conference on Social Health Protection in the East African Community [pdf: 923.63 kB]