Africa has a development aspiration for 2063 which is tagged Agenda 2063: The Africa We Want. To achieve this, all the sectors of the economy must be developed evenly.
Health is a vital sector whose impacts cut across the economic and social standings of all individuals and countries.
One major health challenge facing the African health sector is the rate of infectious diseases and their effect on the continent’s scarce resources.
In between managing infectious diseases to reducing mortality rate, pandemics are likely to occur like was experienced in 2020 when the world was thrown into panic at the peak of the Covid- 19 crisis.
Given the state of African countries and their health systems, many had feared that the effects of the covid-19 pandemic would be more devastating for Africa as it would disrupt the little progress made so far in providing health care services to its people.
However, the response to the pandemic in many African nations with support from foreign bodies and organizations was swift and flexible even amid scarce resources.
Health experts were quick also to attribute the successes recorded by African nations during the period of the pandemic mainly to favourable environmental factors and then to urgent political commitment through measures such as lockdowns.
One thing that stood Africa out during the pandemic was its collaborative efforts as African leaders through their regional bloc, the African Union came up with urgent plans to mitigate the outcome of the pandemic which yielded positive results.
The collaborative efforts brought about initiatives such as the Partnership to Accelerate COVID-19 Testing (PACT), launched by the African Union Commission and the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in April 2020.
The initiative enabled Africa to increase the number of countries with testing capacity, procure more than 90 million test kits, and train thousands of lab workers.
Though deaths were recorded and many infected, the success record was quite fair for Africa.
Despite the commendable swift responses and management of the Covid-19 pandemic, it is no doubt obvious that Africa needs urgent measures to improve its systems to better cope with emergencies such as pandemics.
The measures when implemented will close the gaps that existed during the Covid-19 pandemic and serve as rallying points for countries on the continent to equip their health sectors for better survival.
Some of the measures needed include:
1. Training of the public health workforce.
Over the years, Africa has faced the problem of not having a well- prepared skilled health workforce that can respond adequately to public health emergencies and this was made more evident in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic where Africa lagged in research and adequate responses.
To end this inadequacy, efforts must be geared towards training skilled personnel to build their capacity for greater outputs.
For instance, Africa requires about 25,000 frontline epidemiologists and has about 5,000.
In the light of this, the Africa Centre for Disease Control has taken up the baton and has commenced a training program funded by the European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership (EDCTP) to train 150 highly skilled epidemiologists and biostatisticians.
Although it seems like a drop in the ocean, it is a step in the right direction as other initiatives are also ongoing to train skilled health workers.
The covid 19 pandemic also brought to the fore, the need to strengthen community-based health services as they are the closest to the grassroots levels.
Hence, extra attention must also be given to training and equipping community health workers with the necessary skills.
2. Strengthening Public Health institutions and Provision of infrastructure.
The importance of strong public health institutions can not be over-emphasized in Africa. The availability of strong institutions can be achieved through the adequate provision of infrastructural facilities and equipment needed in the health sector. Having such makes emergency responses easy and well-coordinated. Needed infrastructures such as well-fitted health centres with adequate equipment, testing laboratories, test kits, and co should be readily made available by governments.
While this might not come easy for governments due to limited resources, such initiatives can be driven by private sector partners with public support.
African governments can do well by promoting policies that will enable a conducive environment that will encourage the private sector to invest in infrastructure in the sector.
3. Boosting Manufacturing capacity
Ninety-five per cent of all medicines used in Africa are imported and the continent accounts for just 3% of all medicine production globally.
Also, Africa currently has less than 10 vaccine manufacturing centres spread across Tunisia, Egypt, Morocco, South Africa, and Senegal.
Production in these facilities is limited and most of the activities carried out are packaging and labelling of already produced products.
The continent however has about 80 sterile injectable facilities which can be strengthened for medicine and vaccine production.
Africa is big enough and capable to produce some of its needed medicines and vaccines. It needs to take charge and reduce over-dependence on foreign support for all its needs and to do that, leaders on the continent must be committed to investing more in research for production and funds for the production itself such that when pandemics happen, the continent can be proactive without having to completely look up to international support for everything.
Boosting the local production among other things will also save lives, boost public health, and strengthen the economies.
4. Increased Funding for the health sector
No country or continent has it all in terms of funding but Africa needs extra effort to get more resources to fund the health sector.
Countries on the continent will need to increase their budgetary allocations to the health sector if they must get it right.
It’s been over 20 years since the Abuja Declaration by African states to dedicate at least 15% of their annual budgets to the health sector but only about seven countries — Rwanda, Botswana, Niger, Zambia, Malawi, Burkina Faso, Togo — have met the Abuja target.
The World Health Organisation reports that in 60 per cent of the other countries, the health sector gets below 10 per cent of total government expenditure.
This not only limits the government’s abilities but also makes it dependent on donors and aid for its health sector, a development that will hinder the growth of the sector.
Governments also need to desist from wasteful spending and align their resources with the needs of the sector.
There is also the need for Africa as a body to explore collaborations with international agencies on the need for funding based on strategic partnership rather than just being dependent.
5. Awareness and sensitization
Africans have a poor attitude towards public facilities and policies, this can be attributed to the rot that has characterized the sector over the years. But to get the people to work in tandem with efforts by the government to mitigate any pandemic, there must be continuous sensitization to bring the people up to date with recent efforts by governments.
The sensitization will also teach the people what actions are expected of them should there be any national emergency.
This will help governments with accurate data and statistics and help draw out effective plans to address the issues.
While the points stated are not an exhaustive list of means of mitigating against any other pandemic in Africa, it sure addresses the major challenges that need to be brought to the fore and focused on to get the African continent to be proactive and not only reactive to situations.
In all, if African governments can see beyond themselves and the present, they will realize the need to be strategic and committed to improving the health sector because “Health is Wealth” and the Africa we all want is a healthy one.