Uganda Holds Inaugural National Conference on Health Promotion and Disease Prevention

Kampala, 13 November, 2019:- There was one resounding message that came out of Uganda’s first National Conference on Health Promotion and Disease Prevention held from 6th to 8th November 2019 in Kampala: “Primary Health Care (PHC) is the only route to achieving Universal Health Coverage (UHC) and the biggest driver for PHC is Health Promotion and Disease Prevention”.

Convened under the theme “Investing in Health Promotion and Disease Prevention to Achieve Universal Health Coverage”, the conference brought together participants from the local governments, public and private organizations, health promotion practitioners, academia and many others who employ health promotion principles to influence positive behaviours and improve the health status of Ugandans.

The conference was an opportunity for participants to collectively learn and share best practices that raise awareness and understanding of the role of health promotion in achieving UHC. In addition, participants accessed and shared the latest local health promotion research, policy, and practice from various health professionals.

“In Uganda, 75% of our disease burden is preventable which means to have a healthy population we may not need hospitals that much because, as we all know, clinical care is a bottomless pit which we will never fill,” said Dr Jane Ruth Aceng the Minister of Health. She referred to the reduction in HIV and AIDS infections as well as the quick tracking and elimination of Ebola Virus Disease outbreaks in Uganda as excellent examples that have heavily utilized health promotion interventions for the notable success.

In Uganda, belief in the effectiveness of health promotion is so high to the extent that in the financial year 2019/2020), the Ministry of Health directed all Local Governments to contribute 20% of their total Primary Health Care (PHC) budget to disease prevention and health promotion. “This is a great stride taken by the Government of Uganda towards intensifying health promotion and education within our communities,” noted Dr Diana Atwine the Permanent Secretary Ministry of Health in her opening message.

At the conference, there were two keynote speakers who had the same outlook and belief in what health promotion can do for UHC. In his keynote address titled, “The Great Escape”, Dr Githingi Gitahi, the Group Chief Executive Officer of Amref Health Africa and co-chair of the UHC2030 Steering Committee, a World Bank and WHO initiative for UHC highlighted the agency of health for all in Africa emphasizing the need for equity, innovation and prevention. He made a case for UHC noting that it is the provision of equitable, sustainable and well-financed health services for all people. Dr Gitahi called for investment, training and utilization of nurses, midwives and community health workers (CHWs) saying they are critical in a responsive health care system capable of achieving UHC.

Professor Francis Omaswa a cardiovascular surgeon, academic, health administrator and a recent recipient of the Hideyo Noguchi Africa Prize stressed the need to embed health in all levels of governance emphasizing that poverty, population growth, and dependency are the core health care challenges in Uganda. He took issues with some Ugandans who “tolerate the unacceptable, are weak at demanding what rightly belongs to them and who do not challenge poor working environments”.

After the two days deliberations, participants came up with ten key actions which are in tandem with the WHO Regional Strategy on health Promotion adopted in 2012. They include the development of a health promotion policy, mainstream health promotion and disease prevention into all health programmes and other sectors, implementation of the National Community Health Acceleration Roadmap and development of an evidence-based costed, community health strategy.

Others action are investment in urban health promotion and disease prevention interventions, strengthening of the community health workforce and development or revision of health sector indicators that measure health promotion and disease prevention achievements. They also agreed to develop a stakeholders’ engagement plan for health promotion, advocate with universities to strengthen health promotion and disease prevention research and to ensure the costing and implementation of the national health communication strategy.

The WHO Country Representative Dr Yonas Tegegn Woldermariam succinctly summed up the way forward at a high-level breakfast meeting that crowned the conference. “It has taken us 41 years, recently, in Astana to reaffirm the value of PHC and that health which is fundamental human right can only be attained through PHC. We have to promote and mainstream PHC and health promotion in all policies and in all sectors. If we do not, history will judge us harshly,” he concluded.

Minister of Health Dr Jane Ruth Aceng, WHO Representative to Uganda, Dr Yonas Tegegn Woldemariam and, Dr Githingi Gitahi, the Group Chief Executive Officer of Amref Health Africa with delegates at the Health Promotion Conference
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