Lessons learnt from Covid collaboration across Africa are critical for future healthcare partnerships

by Noah Wekesa

The past two-and-a-half years of the Covid-19 pandemic have marked a watershed moment for Africa, sparking a level of health collaboration unlike any seen in recent history.

As the world raced to find a way to end the pandemic, African nations came together to formulate regionally led solutions to protect their populations from a disease that threatened to end life as we knew it, driving progress towards the kind of unity envisioned by the African Union upon its establishment in 2002; a concept that largely remained an idea that was spoken of, but never truly actualised – perhaps until now.

While African countries have previously combined efforts to address disease outbreaks such as Ebola, yellow fever and cholera, few examples of regional collaboration stand out as clearly as the Covid-19 example.

Through the leadership of the newly autonomous Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), in partnership with other agencies like the World Health Organization Africa Regional Office (WHO AFRO), the continent is slowly strengthening its capacity to identify health emergencies and respond collaboratively.

We have come a long way from attempting to singly tackle health challenges. Now, African countries are sharing knowledge across borders and leveraging the power of regional partnerships to prevent future disease outbreaks and enhance access to much-needed public health services.

Call it political maturity, or recognition of the urgency of the situation we find ourselves in, the success of Africa’s collaborative response to the pandemic has saved – and will continue to save – millions of lives.

But challenges persist. Complex supply and demand barriers, including limited access to vaccination, waning concerns about Covid-19 infection, and dwindling vaccine confidence and trust in institutions, present new concerns for African countries still slowly emerging from the darkest days of the pandemic.

Amid this, however, we see a great opportunity for countries in the region to work as a unit with multilaterals, philanthropic institutions, civil society, development agencies, community-based organisations and other stakeholders in the public and private sectors to address both existing and emerging challenges – this time not as recipients of aid, but as equal players in global health affairs and partners in the journey towards achieving health for all.

Building resilience in Africa’s health systems will be a critical first step towards realising this, and one tool that has demonstrated its value to these efforts is locally led peer-to-peer learning.

The Rockefeller Foundation’s Vaccination Action Network (VAN) offers an example of this. The $7.4-million peer-to-peer learning initiative aims to strengthen health systems by engaging public health decision-makers and implementers of health programmes in a series of intra- and cross-country activities designed to encourage sharing of lessons and best practices to boost local demand for Covid-19 vaccines and strengthen health systems.

Implemented in partnership with Amref Health Africa, Dalberg and the Sabin Vaccine Institute, the initiative has so far engaged key actors including the ministry of health officials in Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania and Uganda. While the initiative is still in its early stages, one intracountry session in Uganda is already elevating potential solutions to vaccine reluctance in Wakiso District, having trained 540 community champions to address the low vaccination rates among the region’s elderly population.

It is envisioned that by listening to communities, interrogating what is working, what is not, and what needs to change to improve Covid-19 vaccination rates, the lessons from the network will help governments in their efforts to conceptualise and implement sustainable mechanisms to support routine immunisations and other essential health services in the long term, strengthening health systems to equip them to respond to the evolving health needs of Africa’s rapidly growing population.

No entity can solve Africa’s health challenges on its own. Certainly, the answers to these challenges can be found within the continent, and they ought to be shared with the rest of the world.

The 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly, for example, offered a great opportunity for African nations to demonstrate their successes, share learnings, seek new partnerships and confidently drive action towards a prosperous post-pandemic future supported by Africa’s achievement of global health targets.

By coming together to address inequitable access to critical health resources, Africa can find sustainable, community-led solutions to the complex supply and demand barriers that have been a hallmark of the continent’s health systems.

Now is the time to call for more resources to capture, understand, analyse, use and further socialise locally led knowledge and transform it into evidence for regional and global actors. Now is the time to build on our newfound unity to move with determination toward our shared goals; to join hands with willing partners to ensure that never again will Africans suffer the indignity of unavailable access to healthcare.

It is only through strengthening collaboration that we can create pathways to sustained prosperity in health. 

Authors: Dr Githinji Gitahi is Group CEO, Amref Health Africa and William Asiko is Vice-President, Africa Regional Office of the Rockefeller Foundation.

Article first published on https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2022-09-27-africa-healthcare-lessons-from-covid-collaboration-critical-for-future/

You may also like

Leave a Comment

* By using this form you agree with the storage and handling of your data by this website.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. We'll assume you're ok with this, but you can opt-out if you wish. Accept Read More