Africa is facing a range of intersecting crises, including climate change, disease outbreaks, food insecurity, and conflict. While the continent is not alone in facing these challenges, their impact is being felt acutely in many countries across the region, emphasizing the urgent need for a collaborative and innovative approach to address them effectively to enhance and safeguard the health and well-being of the population.
One of the biggest lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic is the importance of multisectoral collaboration in the face of health emergencies. Well-coordinated international action has proven to be effective in responding to global health emergencies, having saved millions of lives across the world during the pandemic and, critically, in lower-income settings where populations are more vulnerable to widespread infectious disease outbreaks.
To ensure everyone has access to affordable and quality health care, governments, multilateral institutions, development partners, civil society and other stakeholders must continue to work together to build, finance, and strengthen health systems. By doing this, health systems will be able to prevent and mitigate the impact of health emergencies while continuing to provide essential services to populations without interruption, a critical component of achieving universal health coverage as envisioned by Sustainable Development Goal 3 on ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for all at all ages.
While laudable progress has been made toward this goal, there is much more that needs to be done.
An Africa ripe for change
For decades, Africa has been seen as a passive recipient of aid rather than an active partner in solving global health challenges. This perception has proved to be damaging to the development and prosperity of our continent and was evident at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic when African countries struggled to access essential health commodities such as vaccines, diagnostics, and therapeutics as wealthier nations diverted resources to their own populations.
These inequalities in access to essential health commodities not only created a crisis of trust between African countries and their global partners; they also served as a painful reminder of the hierarchical nature of global health and development, and our position at the bottom of the list of international priorities developed by the global north.
But Africa is ripe for change. From conversations at forums such as the 36th African Union Summit, the 2nd International Conference on Public Health in Africa, and the Africa Health Agenda International Conference, it is evident that African countries are no longer willing to sit back and be passive participants in global health matters.
The importance of strong African partnerships
As Africa moves forward, it is important for us to shift our focus from dependence on foreign aid and prioritize building strong African partnerships. This will enable us to take charge of financing our health systems and coordinating our response to health emergencies on our own terms.
African countries are ready for deeper regional collaboration, self-sufficiency in health financing, and active participation in global health matters. We know that we cannot solve all the challenges we face on our own, and there is growing consensus that African countries must come together and find solutions for Africa by Africans, while at the same time creating space for collaboration with other global stakeholders in health.
It is encouraging to witness and participate in Africa’s renewed focus to take charge of its own health agenda through regional and international collaboration.
To date, several initiatives have sprung up on the continent to support these efforts. This includes the elevation of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, or Africa CDC, into an autonomous health agency for the continent — signalling the growing commitment among African Union member states to strengthen the continent’s response to current and future disease outbreaks.
Add to that is Africa’s New Public Health Order. Championed by Africa CDC, this is a framework that outlines the continent’s priorities for its health security and provides a road map to bolster Africa’s public health institutions, strengthen the health workforce, expand local manufacturing, increase domestic investment in health, and promote action-oriented and respectful partnerships.
The establishment of the African Medicines Agency, to be headquartered in Rwanda, is also a significant step toward creating an enabling regulatory environment for pharmaceutical sector development in Africa. The agency is dedicated to improving access to safe, quality, and efficacious medical products on the continent, significantly enhancing the continent’s ability to respond effectively to public health emergencies, promoting self-reliance, and increasing access to high-quality medicines.
These initiatives all signify a new dawn for a continent that has borne the brunt of public health emergencies and one that remains among the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and other emerging global health challenges. They are also evidence that African countries can — and must — speak in one voice to influence the development of a global health security agenda that is responsive to our needs.
By prioritizing regional collaboration and multistakeholder partnerships to develop home-grown solutions to today’s and tomorrow’s health challenges, Africa can build a future that is prosperous, sustainable, and equitable for all.
The views in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect Devex’s editorial views.
By Githinji Gitahi, Dr. Sabin Nsanzimana
About the authors
Githinji Gitahi Dr. Githinji Gitahi is the group chief executive officer of Amref Health Africa, the largest Africa-led international organization, reaching more than 11 million people each year through 150 health-focused projects across 35 countries. Previously, Dr. Githinji was vice president and Africa regional director for Smile Train International; managing director for Monitor Publications in Uganda; and general manager for marketing and circulation in East Africa for the Nation Media Group. Dr. Githinji also sits on the boards of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention and The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations.
Dr. Sabin Nsanzimana Dr. Sabin Nsanzimana is Rwanda’s minister of health since November 2022. He previously served as director general of the University Teaching Hospital of Butare and the Rwanda Biomedical Centre. He holds extensive experience in infectious disease and noncommunicable diseases program design, strategic planning and implementation science. Sabin holds a medical degree and a master’s degree in Clinical Epidemiology from the University of Rwanda, and a doctorate in Epidemiology from the University of Basel, Switzerland.
Article first published on https://www.devex.com/news/sponsored/opinion-strengthen-health-systems-in-africa-through-multilateralism-105468