ADDIS ABABA — Countries in Africa have called for addressing long-standing health challenges on the continent through a new public health order, officials and experts said here at a conference on Thursday.
The first international Conference on Public Health in Africa, which started on Tuesday, was co-hosted by the African Union and Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The three-day event tackled the issue of vaccine inequity and weak health systems in Africa, as well as the impact and lessons learned from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The conference was held at an important time in history, said Chairperson of the African Union Commission Moussa Faki Mahamat.
“The African continent has not been spared the devastating effects of COVID-19, pushing our health systems to the limits,” Mahamat said.
Mahamat said the African Union’s new public health order needs continental collaboration to bolster African manufacturing capacity for vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics. He stressed the need to strengthen public health institutions for people-centered care, expand the public health workforce, establish partnerships and engage with the private sector.
President of Rwanda Paul Kagame, who is also the union’s champion for domestic health financing, also echoed Mahamat’s remarks.
“This has been a priority of the African Union for several years, but progress has not been fast enough. We cannot continue to rely on external funding for something so important to our future,” said Kagame. Kagame emphasized the urgent need to intensify investments in national health systems.
John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for his part emphasized the need to take lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic in order to build a better healthcare system in Africa.
“It means we have to fight the next pandemic in a way that is unparalleled to the way we are fighting this pandemic,” said Nkengasong. “I am very convinced that we will do that given the mobilization, commitment and investments that are currently going on,” he added.
Over 140 African policymakers, scientists, public health experts, data experts and civil society representatives presented the latest learnings and research from the COVID-19 pandemic. Next year’s conference is expected to be held in Rwanda.