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West Africa and Sahel

Africa should celebrate its successes, notcontinent of disasters

The Director-General, African Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (African-CDC), Dr Jean Kaseya, has urged Africa to celebrate its medical and health successes so it will not be labelled as a continent of disasters.

He said in Abuja, at the opening of the 25th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Health Ministers (AHM) of Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

The meeting which was organised by the West African Health Organisation (WAHO), a specialised institution of ECOWAS responsible for health issues has “Quality of Health Care in ECOWAS Region, Determinants and Prospects” as theme.

According to Kaseya, there is a lot to celebrate in the ECOWAS region.

“One of the major successes is the elimination of malaria in Cape Verde, they are doing a great job, so let us build on that, we have a number of other successes. We have to celebrate them.

“Africa is not a continent of just disasters and can we build on your success not only at the regional level, but also at the continental level and we should leverage on that to make huge impact, ” he added.

Kaseya said that African-CDC in collaboration with ECOWAS and all of their partners have been at the forefront of tackling public health challenges across borders.

According to him, driving the organisation’s agenda in 2024 was enhancing health workforce, ensuring local manufacturing of vaccines and innovative financing.

“In Africa we are facing an estimated shortfall of seven million health workers by 2030.

“It is increased by challenges including under investment in training and employment opportunities for health workers, inadequate incentives and migration to other continents.

“To mitigate that, African-CDC took the lead to discuss and to engage our Heads of States on specific measures to be implemented.”

He also said that local manufacturing of vaccines should be championed in the continent as that was “the second independence of Africa”.

“I will never accept as Director-General of African-CDC to see this kind of article that was released two weeks ago saying that Africa is not able to manufacture vaccines because we don’t have market, people or technology.

“I call that an insult, that is not acceptable. This agenda of local manufacturing is not negotiable, it’s a red line for us.”

Nigeria’s Coordinating Minister of Health and Social Welfare, Prof. Ali Pate, said that over the years, the region has confronted numerous health challenges, including infectious and non-communicable diseases and the recent COVID-19 pandemic.

He said that these challenges have tested its resilience while highlighting the strength of its unity and cooperation.

“Our collaborative efforts in combating infectious diseases, including Lassa fever and, most recently, meningitis, have demonstrated the power of our unity and shared purpose.”

Pate, however, said that in spite of the region’s efforts, there were still ongoing challenges that continue to affect the health and well-being of its populations.

“We still have outstanding, unfinished business in terms of improving reproductive, maternal, newborn, and child health outcomes in the region.

“Non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, and cancers are on the rise, placing a significant burden on our health systems.

“The impact of climate change on health is real and becoming increasingly evident through extreme weather events, changing disease patterns, migrations, and environmental degradation, which pose new threats to the health of our populations.

“As health leaders, we must prioritise climate-resilient health systems and integrate environmental considerations into health policies and programs”, he said.

He, however, said that the primary focus for the region was the fortification of its healthcare systems, which should be the backbone of societal well-being.

This, he said, encompasses not only the infrastructure but also investing in human resources for health and integrating innovative technologies to ensure comprehensive health services are accessible.

Speaking about the theme of the meeting, Pate said that it requires both robust health systems and financial systems, as well as trained, retained, and motivated frontline health workers to deliver services.

For him, access to care is only one part of the equation as without quality, access would not lead to improved health outcomes.

In a welcome address, the Director-General of WAHO, Dr Melchior Aissi, said that there were clear signals that there was a slow improvement of health indicators within ECOWAS member states making it difficult to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) before the deadline.

According to him, there was need to make sure that knowledge goes beyond monies, but to have the courage to do the impossible and be able to go into developments that are thought are not possible.

“We should work within the context and vote new resources for health. Artificial Intelligence is not to be neglected.

“We would also need to be focused on being able to facilitate the well-being of our people and the peoples of ECOWAS.

While commending Cape Verde for eliminating malaria, he said that the country was the only one within ECOWAS that has largely met the SDGs.

“This is also a strong signal that the ECOWAS region is capable of routing diseases and this disease has been an issue of public health concern in the region.

“However, all the 14 other countries of ECOWAS can also go that route if collective conscience enable us to have good synergy of resources and concerted action working together by making sure that we can have effective elimination of malaria if we have enough political will.

“Only working together will enable us to eliminate diseases by sharing best practices and working also within the context of socio-cultural realities of our communities.

“Thus, community response in the area of health is important as a leverage on which WAHO has already started a process of regional harmonisation.”

Aissi, called for support from all member states in its initiative to help in ensuring a total coverage of all the households in ECOWAS with regards the health coverage so it could mitigate risks and threats.

The meeting which began on Monday with various meetings involving stakeholders in the health sector ended on Friday with a communique to be issued on the various reports from the meetings.

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