West Africa Monitor Quarterly Issue 5 focuses on health sector

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The latest edition of the West Africa Monitor Quarterly, an African Development Bank (AfDB) publication, has just been released. The report presents the latest political, economic and social developments in West Africa. The "Country Updates" section focuses on Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Togo.

For Emanuele Santi, Chief Regional Economist for West Africa, "the region is entering a period of turbulence. Several elections will take place in 2015 and their proper conduct will be decisive for economic growth". This year will be particularly crucial, since presidential elections will take place in Nigeria, Côte d’Ivoire, Togo, Guinea and Burkina Faso. Together, these countries account for 85% of the region's GDP.

Economically, the region has demonstrated a certain degree of resilience towards the Ebola outbreak and falling commodity prices. Against these threats, the growing diversification of West African economies is proving a powerful shock mitigation factor.

The fact that cases of Ebola infection are slowing finally suggests the approach of the end of the epidemic. But this health crisis has exposed the full breadth of weakness in West African health care systems. "This catastrophe was not inevitable," Santi underscored. “It was made possible by the failings of the health systems in the region. As such, the crisis tragically sharpens the need to protect the people against health risks, be they epidemic or chronic." 

At a time when Ebola is monopolizing media attention, this publication focusing on the health field presents a general summary of the West African sector. The inability of the region's countries to achieve Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) shows that, despite recent improvements, their respective health systems are not up to the challenges of development. Health funding, on which the states in the region spend an average of 1 to 5% of their budgets (a figure far below the 15% recommended by the African Union), is insufficient to ensure access to care and medicines for all and in all places. The vast majority of health spending is borne by the people. And, in the absence of structuring and market organization, staff and facilities are inadequate to meet needs. For example, there were just 60 doctors practising in Liberia before the Ebola epidemic, in a country with a population of 4.3 million. 

The publication, therefore, deals with the limits of health policies implemented in the countries of West Africa and the obstacles they face. It also makes recommendations for the development of more equitable and more efficient health systems. Establishing universal health insurance, concentrating financial efforts on the most useful programmes and working towards greater regional cooperation are among the major goals to pursue.