Kigali – Hundreds of political figures, innovators, researchers, policymakers, health workers and community mobilisers are gathering at Africa Health Agenda International Conference (AHAIC) 2023 which is being held in Kigali, Rwanda. The event that is Jointly convened by the Ministry of Health Rwanda, African Union and Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), and Amref Health Africa is set to focus on building resilience in healthcare systems in Africa and shed light on the effects of climate change of the health of Africa’s people.
Daily News Egypt Spoke to George Kimathi director of the Institute of Capacity Development in Amref Health Africa about possible approaches for improving the resilience of healthcare systems throughout the continent.
What do we mean by a “resilient health system”?
A resilient system is a system that is able to withstand any shock for instance a pandemic or any other emergency that hits the system, and then withstands it and bounces back.
So during an outbreak of Ebola or Marburg virus or COVID-19, a resilient healthcare system will be able to ensure that all essential healthcare services including access to drugs, immunizations, and postnatal care for mothers continue, and then the system will recover and grow.
How Amref is working to boost the resilience of healthcare systems in Africa?
So I would refer to Amref as a vision of lasting health change for Africa. We are a non-governmental organization that is headquartered in Nairobi. we started it in Nairobi 65 years ago but now we have a presence in five countries across Africa. We have teams in nine countries in Africa including Malawi, Zambia, Kenya, Tanzania, South Sudan, Ethiopia, and, and Senegal, and we are expanding into Burkina Faso and Benin and a couple of other countries in different regions.
We work very closely with the communities, with governments, with the health ministers across the continent, but also with civil society organizations and the private sector to advance the cause of increasing access to health care in the continent. Through our engagement and collaborations with multiple stakeholders, we work to improve the overall resilience of healthcare systems by providing funds and technical support.
Regarding collaboration, explain how it could contribute to the development of a robust healthcare system and nations in Africa. What is the significance of cooperating across the entire continent?
First of all, cross-continent collaborations are needed because the people of Africa are the ones who are the most suited to understand their challenges because we are living them. Moreover, we have an idea of the potential solutions to our problems.
Secondly, we have learned from what happened during the COVID pandemic and even before that Africa is always at the end of the queue. Many African countries were not even waiting for donations, they wanted to buy the vaccines but we were the latest to receive them.
So, although we require partnerships from all sides, the most important partnerships that we have to build are within the continent.
When considering North Africa, it is worth noting that there has traditionally been a separation between North and Sub-Saharan Africa, even within global health organizations like the World Health Organization. Do you believe this division should persist, or would it be more advantageous for North Africa to be included in a broader African strategy?
It is extremely regrettable that there is a division between regions in Africa, and it is crucial that we do not allow this separation to persist. The reason for this is that Africa is united under the African Union, and all of us – including those in the Middle, South, and North – share unique issues and challenges specific to our continent.
Discrimination against us affects the entire continent. Negotiating for better prices for medical resources like vaccines, diagnostics, and equipment becomes challenging when we are separated. Remaining divided will make it difficult to push for greater financial autonomy from entities such as the World Bank, IMF, and other organizations.
How we can move forward towards more interconnected healthcare systems in Africa?
I think we need political will from North African leaders as a starting point to reconnect with the rest of the continent, I can’t wait for the moment when all international health organisations are working with us as one continent.
But overall, I am optimistic because in terms of health, now we are all gathering under the umbrella of Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, in the economical side, we have the continental free trade area and politically we gather under the umbrella of the African Union. So, we have a well-established mechanism to bring African countries together.