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Africans push on in drive for universal healthcare

By OTIATO OPALI in Nairobi, Kenya | China Daily | Updated: 2021-03-10 10:31

A health worker receives the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine under the COVAX scheme against coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at the Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi, Kenya on March 5, 2021. [Photo/Agencies]

A quest to achieve universal health coverage in Africa has gathered momentum despite disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic to the health sector and economies across the continent.

The upbeat mood was evident on Monday at the Africa Health Agenda International Conference, or AHAIC, which unveiled a report titled "The State of Universal Health Coverage in Africa". The comprehensive document mapped the progress of African countries toward their universal health coverage goals.

The report provides key recommendations for transformative change which African countries should adopt to accelerate progress toward universal health coverage. The conference is a biennial meeting of health ministers, private sector leaders, civil society, and representatives from multilateral organizations. It will run until Wednesday.

Githinji Gitahi, chief executive at African Medical and Research Foundation, said the COVID-19 pandemic has pointed out the glaring gaps in African and global health systems and made a strong case for the urgent achievement of universal health coverage.

"While progress toward achieving health for all has been slow, the current reality has reinvigorated countries' efforts to ensure better access to quality, affordable healthcare. Through the State of UHC in Africa report and AHAIC 2021, we are hoping to provide a realistic roadmap that will guide African countries on their journeys to UHC," Gitahi said.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization, said Africa has reacted better to the pandemic not only because of the low average age of the population, but also because of its long experience in managing epidemics. He gave his remarks at the virtual conference whose theme is "Decade for Action: Driving Momentum to Achieve UHC in Africa".

"So far, almost 4 million cases have been reported from African Union countries, and we have lost more than 100,000 of our brothers and sisters. We know that the real numbers are higher," Ghebreyesus said.

"But the pandemic is a surprising paradox. Some of the wealthiest countries, with the most advanced medical technology, have been hardest hit, while many countries in Africa have managed to prevent or control widespread community transmission."

The WHO director-general added the approval of safe and effective vaccines is now giving people across the African continent hope in bringing the pandemic under control.

"So far, around 14 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been delivered to 19 countries in Africa through COVAX, and more countries will receive doses this week. This is a great start, but we have a lot of work left to do," Ghebreyesus added.

Uhuru Kenyatta, Kenya's president, expressed in opening remarks his pleasure in witnessing the strong participation of young people in the conference as speakers and in the plenary sessions. Kenyatta pointed out the youth are a key constituency in driving momentum toward universal healthcare and they should not be sidelined.

"I urge the conference to give special attention to health issues that are plaguing our young people which include teenage pregnancies, alcohol and substance abuse, lifestyle diseases, epidemics such as HIV/AIDs, and mental health. We should also not lose sight of the fact that some of these health issues have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic," Kenyatta said.

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