Delegates at AfDB Annual Meetings Seminar Press for a healthier Africa
“It’s time to change the health agenda in Africa,” urged Agnes Soucat, human development department director at the African Development Bank (AfDB). She was addressing participants at a seminar titled, “Beyond Aid: New Agenda for Health Fianancing”, at the 2011 Annual Meetings of the Bank in Lisbon, Portugal.
According to Ms. Soucat, the AfDB, working with its partners, would continue to invest resources to support the African health sector. But she suggested that “the main policies have to rely on a more efficient use of the existing budgets.” African countries need to invest at home to improve their health systems using their present human and technological capacities in a more efficient way,” she added.
The debate focused on a need for deeper dialogue between finance and health ministers, more efficient and productive health financing programs and greater awareness on health insurance, as well as a diagnosis of the challenges and opportunities of the sector on the continent.
The delegates learnt that while sub-Saharan Africa makes up only 11 percent of the world’s population, the area accounts for 49 percent of maternal deaths, 50 percent of under-five child deaths and 67 percent of HIV/AIDS cases.
Kamal Elkheshen, AfDB Sector Operations Vice-President, summarised the institution, its partners and stakeholders objectives of, stressing that steps were already being taken to enhance the Millenium Development Goals in the health sector in the region. He said that the challenges African countries faced in efforts to meet the MDGs should be fully incorporated in their health policies.
He said that although the lack of health services were due to poor financing, “money is not the medicine for all problems”.
For his part, Fabrice Sergent of the Bank’s human resources department noted that efficiency remained the watchword with regards to health, noting that different countries achieved different results due to the inequality and inefficiency of the health budgets that need to be seriously addressed in the framework of the discussion. He noted that it was important to promote greater trans-sectoral investment and action in the health sector.
“Regular meetings between African finance and health ministers are needed so that a better performance is achieved in the health sector, both at national and regional levels,” he said.
He added that aid should only complement existing policies and programs and not become a substitute. “Waste is one of the main problems we are facing,” he concluded.
Rwanda’s health policies since 1994 and the country’s achievements in the sector in the last decade were presented by Kampeta Sayinzoga, the finance and economic planning ministry permanent secretary. He reported that nearly 90 percent of the country’s population were currently on health insurance, up from 10 percent in 2002. Ms. Sayinzoga said that Rwanda’s case showed that “poor people do not mind to pay if the health systems are well-structured and transparent.” Through a strong local (governmental) advocacy and campaign, and a system of ‘Muttuelles’ (micro-health systems), the health insurance achieved an unexpected progress when compared to many neighboring countries, where the sectors are fully financed by public and/or by donors. “It is better to take a bus than to wait for a limo,” she remarked.