Amref Health Africa GCEO and Commissioner in the Africa COVID19 Commission under the Africa Union, Dr Githinji Gitahi has once again called on policymakers to review public health policies that were instituted to prevent transmission of COVID-19. These include mandatory wearing of face masks in public places, travel restrictions, and prohibition of gatherings, among others. Most African governments had put in place such measures, including imposing curfews and stay at home directives to help curb the spread of the virus.
While speaking at a public lecture on 1st March 2022 at the Amref International University (AMIU), Dr Gitahi emphasised the need to review the public health policies that were continuously exerting more financial burden on local communities in Africa. “When positivity and case fatality rates for COVID-19 have consistently dropped, should we continue focusing resources on enforcing preventative measures that have a significant cost to communities? With the current low COVID-19 infection rates in Africa, why do we need to uphold current punitive mask mandates?” he asked. He challenged the academia and research institutions to prioritise studies on preventive measures and provide concrete recommendations to policymakers on mask mandates and PCR tests. This would be a good way to shield Africans from continued social harm as a result of the economic burden of the measures. “The most important thing to do at such a point in time is to invest in stronger health systems, and promote more vaccinations by closing access gaps to help keep the fatalities at the lowest,” he added.
But to enable scaling up of COVID vaccination, we must also address the vaccine injustice. Africa is five times behind the rest of the world in COVID-19 vaccinations because we don’t manufacture vaccines. Only 1% of Africa’s vaccine consumption is manufactured in Africa. But how do we support vaccine manufacturing to safeguard the future of our people? We need to move from 1% to 60% by 2040 to guarantee commodity security in Africa. “But it is not enough to manufacture vaccines, we must think of the market design and have a common regulatory environment for all countries by ratifying Africa Medicines Agency (AMA) to enhance collaboration and contribute to improving access to quality, safe and efficacious medical products and health technologies. Besides, Africa should not focus on manufacturing vaccines and commodities for Africa, but for the world. These commodities must go through stringent global regulatory systems and commodity value chain to be accepted globally,” he said.
Talking deeper into the future beyond the current COVID-19 pandemic, Dr Gitahi noted that health systems must be the foundation for health, social and economic security, calling on the need to strengthen Africa’s health systems to be pandemic resilient based on Universal Health Coverage through strong primary health care, multi-sectoral and one health approaches. “Part of systems strengthening must also include strong disease surveillance mechanisms to ensure a common approach for all countries because lack of surveillance in one country is a danger to all countries starting at the community because pandemics start and end in communities,” he said.
From the discussions, there was a general emphasis on the need to wear a gender lens in pandemic preparedness and response to protect the most vulnerable. “Women, children and adolescent girls are affected disproportionately in pandemics hence I urge policymakers to have gender considerations in policy-making processes”
The public lecture that was organised by Amref International University under the coordination of the student council brought over 500 participants including students, faculty, health practitioners, Amref staff and representatives of various universities across Africa. The session was aimed at discussing lessons drawn from the COVID-19 pandemic and how they can contribute to improving health service delivery in Africa.
Author: Elizabeth Ntonjira, Global Communication Director- Amref Health Africa