Transforming Africa’s health system in wake of COVID-19 pandemic
Lomé – As Africa strives to recover from the deepfelt impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, health authorities and experts gathering this week for the Seventy-second session of the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Committee for Africa launched a new drive to find ways of revamping the region’s health systems.
At a special event on Rethinking and rebuilding resilient health systems in Africa during the 22 – 26 August Regional Committee meeting in Lomé, Togo, delegates examined the measures that have worked in achieving universal access to health care as well as the shortfalls. They also explored ways to maintain essential services during outbreaks and the investments and actions needed to ensure equitable access to quality medical products and health technologies.
“The scope and severity of the COVID-19 pandemic put great pressure on Senegal’s health system,” said Dr Marie Khemesse Ngom Ndiaye, Senegal’s Minister of Health. But “thanks to (its) Resilience Programme and Investment Plan, Senegal’s health system has considerably strengthened disease prevention and management capacities.”
COVID-19 has not only exerted enormous pressure on health systems but also sounded the alarm on the need to reform and revitalize the continent’s health systems. Even as countries stepped up measures including surveillance, prevention, clinical care and vaccination in the wake of the pandemic, further efforts are essential to render the health systems more robust and resilient.
The pandemic has also added to the African region’s existing health challenges. More than any other part of the world, the region responds to more than 100 health emergencies every year. During emergencies many countries face shutdowns of health programmes due to staff reassignments, supply chain disruptions as well as movement restrictions. These disruptions undermine progress towards universal health coverage and lay bare inequities in access to health care.
“The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the fragility of our continent’s health infrastructure and the urgent need to strengthen the overall health system to secure access to quality care for all Africa’s people, when and where they need it, without incurring financial hardship,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director to Africa. “Domestic investment in health, including health research, has significant economic returns, while promoting resilience and sustainability; healthy populations translate to healthy economies.”
Despite the disruptions due to outbreaks and other challenges, African countries have made progress in improving access to health services. For example, the number of countries scoring over 40% (“medium coverage”) on the universal health coverage index has increased from three out of 47 countries to 35 between 2000 and 2019.
The special event launched at the Regional Committee kicks off a collective process to support African countries as they ramp up efforts to recover from the pandemic-triggered disruptions and work to rebuild better their health systems. A series of consultations and actions will follow to support countries in achieving universal health coverage and health security.