High-level dialogue on strengthening public health security in Africa calls for huge private sector investments in health

07/11/2016
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“Nothing could be more important,” African Development Bank President Akinwumi Adesina said Monday, as he addressed a high-level dialogue on strengthening public health security in Sub-Saharan Africa. “Health is wealth.”

“Our meeting today is crucial, for building resilient health systems to ensure that Africa can deal effectively with public health emergencies and support its economic transformation,” he told the West African Ministerial Dialogue on Strengthening Public Health Security in Africa, hosted by the AfDB. “A healthy population will translate into increased productivity, and drive sustainable economic growth.”

The meeting focused on lessons learned from the Ebola crisis and the preparedness of African governments in an effective healthcare system capable of responding to emergencies.

The Ebola virus disease (EVD) in West Africa exposed the vulnerability of countries to public health emergencies. In particular, it demonstrated that many countries do not have robust health systems, and are lacking the core capacities to respond effectively to health security threats. In light of the increasing number of new threats since 2015, including a major urban yellow fever outbreak and spread of the Zika virus disease in Africa, the need to strengthen countries’ capacities to respond to such threats has never been greater. The Ebola outbreak not only posed a serious threat to public health security; it also greatly impacted the economic security of the countries affected.

The Abidjan meeting, which featured presentations on how the Ebola Virus Disease spread through communities in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, brought together Finance and Health Ministers from Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Côte d’Ivoire; Ambassadors accredited to Côte d’Ivoire; representatives of bilateral, regional and multilateral organizations; healthcare experts; and members of AfDB’s Board of Directors.

President Adesina highlighted the significant progress made by Africa over the last two decades in terms of health outcomes, underscoring that child mortality has declined in Sub-Saharan Africa by more than 50% between 1990 and 2015. Similarly, maternal mortality rates declined by 45% in the sub-region and by 59% in North Africa over the same period. However, he underscored that key challenges related to the high disease burden in Africa remain.

“Although progress has been made with malaria cases declining by 42% between 2000 and 2010, the continent still accounts for 88% of global malaria incidence,” said Adesina.  

“In addition, Sub-Saharan Africa faces a deficit of skilled health workers. While the region accounts for 25% of the global disease burden, it represents only 4% of the global health workforce. Lack of access to safe, quality and affordable medicines remains a major challenge, worsened by weak regulatory systems and a preponderance of fake drugs.”

For his part, Côte d’Ivoire’s Prime Minister, Daniel Kablan Duncan, appealed for the creation of a fund to fight pandemics, recalling that the sub-region paid a heavy price for the epidemic of Ebola virus disease, with more than 11,000 deaths and serious socioeconomic consequences. The Ivorian Prime Minister emphasized the need for urgent strategies and mechanisms to guarantee access to health services for less privileged communities. “We acknowledge the Bank’s vision to increase revenues and investments in health and insurance to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),” he said.

World Health Organization Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Rebecca Moeti, described the meeting as “a very important public health event in Sub-Saharan Africa that takes stock of actions after the Ebola outbreak.” She recalled that infectious diseases, such as cholera, yellow fever and Rift Valley fever, accounted for more than 85% of reported health events, observing that the economic impact of the outbreak was high, with aggregate cumulative GDP losses for Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia in 2014 and 2015 estimated to be 10% of GDP.

With these emergencies, the African region needs increased and sustainable investments to strengthen health systems and requires better preparedness and resilience, said Dr. Moeti. “We are looking specifically at ensuring that countries have health systems that are robust, adequately staffed and financed, and equitable; able to reach all people with good quality preventive and curative services,” she said, emphasizing the private sector’s role, in strengthening health systems on the continent.

“Most countries need sustainable investments to build resilience,” she said.

On September 8, 2016, the AfDB Board of Directors approved two grants of US $1 million each, to Cape Verde and Guinea Bissau as emergency assistance to support the implementation of National Preparedness and Response Plans to fight the Zika virus outbreak in the two countries.

The Bank was the first among the donor community to respond to the Ebola outbreak through 10 operations amounting to US $290 million. Overall the Bank’s intervention strengthened health systems through the establishment of alert systems, infrastructure support, institutionalization of infection prevention and control practices, provision of logistics and strengthening of community engagement to participate in epidemic response.