AHS: investing in health will have a great impact on African development

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Africa has made significant strides in certain areas of social and economic development. But the continent has the potential to achieve even more if it can overcome the large burden of disease which continues to be a barrier to faster development… Indeed, high maternal and infant mortality, low life expectancy, and poor education of children and women keep affecting our continent, representing a big obstacle on the road to a stable development.

This ever increasing disease burden, despite good plans and strategies, is cause for concern. This is the reason why the African Health Strategy was adopted in 2007 by the African Union: at that time, AU Ministers of Health decided to harmonize all the existing health strategies to create a formidable front in the fight against disease.

This strategy aimed to build an effective, African-driven response to prevent avoidable disease and reduce disability and death on the continent by strengthening healthcare systems. As it was due to expire in 2015, a technical team was appointed to provide guidance on the revision of the strategy to make it go from 2016 to 2030. This team, led by the AU Commission, was comprised of the NEPAD Agency, WHO, UNFPA, UNAIDS, UNICEF and the South Africa Department of Health. We were expected to ensure that the input made into the strategy had taken into consideration lessons learned during the period 2007-2015 and emerging issues, such as the recent Ebola outbreak as well as other diseases that have threatened the health of the African people. In light of these issues, the revision of the strategy needed to include particularly a strengthening of national health systems as well as the disease surveillance and response systems at continental level.

From this perspective, we revised the strategy in a way such as it does not compete or negates other health strategies but seeks to be complementary by adding value from the unique perspective of the African Union. Our goal: to create better health for all and to make African health systems reach the poor and those most in need of health care. To get to that, a coordinated response is essential to ensure maximum benefits from the resources mobilized and to prevent fragmentation of actives. This Strategy thus provides an overarching framework to enable coherence within and between countries, civil society and the international community. As such, NEPAD shall support technical implementation of the strategy and resource mobilization. Its specific roles will include: mobilizing and directing technical expertise and financial resources to implement agreed regional and national programs and projects; supporting research and knowledge management; and providing technical support to AU Commission’s policy processes and activities.

Thus the strategy proposes strengthening of health systems with the goal of reducing disease burden through improved resources, systems, policies and management.  This will contribute to equity through a system people who need it. I feel convinced that investment in health will impact on poverty reduction and overall economic development.

Eventually, health sector should be at the forefront of efforts to advance women’s rights and equality as women not only bear the greatest disease burden but are also primary care givers. This is one reason among others why I am more and more convinced that empowering African women is a way to make Africa stronger : I wrote about that in a past article that you will easily find here.