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Africa has high expectations for the upcoming World Health Assembly

By Edith Mutethya in Nairobi, Kenya | | Updated: 2024-05-24 20:25
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Women and their children wait for a consultation with Dr Fabien Kongolo in the waiting area of the Yakusu General Hospital, Tshopo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Oct 5, 2022. [Photo/Agencies]

Africa is hopeful that the upcoming 77th session of the World Health Assembly or WHA scheduled for May 27-June 1 in Geneva will prioritize the health challenges that are plaguing the continent.

Speaking at a pre-WHA press briefing webinar on Thursday, Dr Ngashi Ngongo, chief of the staff and head of executive office of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said, he expects Africa's health priorities to take center stage at the assembly to realize the vision of a safer, healthier and prosperous Africa.

"We want to see the discussions also focus on Africa's critical public health priorities linked to universal health coverage and also health security including recurrent vaccine preventable disease outbreaks such as cholera, measles, polio, yellow fever and diphtheria," he said.

Ngongo also expects discussions on the emerging and re-emerging diseases like Mpox, the burden of pandemic diseases such as malaria, HIV and Tuberculosis which continues to pose significant challenges on the continent.

This is in addition to antimicrobial resistant, communicable diseases and the current high maternal and child mortality in the continent.

He said the disease burdens are exacerbated by the continent's weak health systems, conflicts, climate change and other social detriments such as poverty and food insecurity.

"Last year we registered 166 public health events and outbreaks, an average of three events every week. That's a huge challenge considering the context of Africa in terms of the systems, financing and the overall capacity to respond," he said.

Dr Githinji Gitahi, the group chief executive of the Amref Health Africa, said it's important for Africa to have a clear picture of what it's going to do at the assembly.

He said 54 percent of people in Africa have no access to universal health coverage, adding that household gross domestic product per capita expenditure on health is highest in the low-income countries.

"The vulnerable are the ones that are carrying the health systems in their countries which multiplies the vulnerability," he said.

On the upcoming assembly, Gitahi expects discussions on harnessing country learning and leadership in terms of localization as well as accelerating reduction of maternal and neonatal diseases and antimicrobial resistance.

This is in addition to the future of global health initiative – the Lusaka agenda which is about working with global health initiatives to localize their strategies so that they are country-led, community-centered, and people-centered.

Gitahi also expects discussions on social participation of universal health coverage. "The power rests with people, we don't empower people, we harness their power – how to get people demand faster achievement for universal health coverage," he said.

Dr Matshidiso Moeti, the regional director of the World Health Organization regional office for Africa, called on African leaders to continue prioritizing health and government projects, noting that despite the fact that the world is emerging from the COVID-19, African countries are experiencing additional health challenges.

She called for a fair system of access to financing for development including for health. "I urge international communities to ensure that African countries can borrow affordably," Moeti said.

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