COVID-19 pandemic lessons should help build robust health systems

The lessons Africa learnt from the COVID-19 pandemic must be an opportunity to build more robust health systems.

This, according to President Cyril Ramaphosa, is so that the continent does not continue to be plagued by the same inequities every time it is faced with a health emergency.

The President made the remarks while delivering a solidarity address during a high-level breakfast meeting of African Heads of State and Government on Africa Centres for Disease Control in Addis Ababa, Ethopia, on Saturday evening.

“Inequities in access to quality health services and products is a blight on the conscience of the world. The onus falls on each member state to advance the agenda of equitable healthcare for all, and to achieve Universal Health Coverage as aspired to in the UN Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development.

“As health emergencies increase in frequency across our continent, our progress towards achieving Universal Health Coverage as well as full pandemic preparedness is being impeded.”

The AU COVID-19 Commission, he said, should be commended for investing heavily in Africa’s health agenda.

“This panel of health experts from across the sectors… have been exceptional advocates for the New Public Health Order, travelling the world to attract investment, and magnifying the voice of African health interlocutors,” he said.

Members, he said, defended the amendments to the Africa CDC statutes that advocate for the organisation to have the power to declare public health emergencies of regional concern.

“Our focus is to continue attracting investment into Africa CDC’s growth and sustainability and to ensure a strong network of national public health institutions in every member state that supports it.

“As Ministers, you have a key role to play in ensuring this ambition is elevated in our respective countries,” he said.

With regards to pharmaceutical manufacturing, President Ramaphosa reminded dignitaries of the meeting of the Bureau in May 2022 where they discussed the serious problem of the continent’s nascent manufacturing industry being unable to secure markets.

Several bold demands were made following this meeting.

“Firstly, that GAVI, UNICEF and other large procurers of vaccines purchase 30 percent of the vaccines destined for Africa from African manufacturers. The Africa CDC, the PAVM secretariat and the AU COVID-19 Commission have done the leg work to ensure that GAVI establishes an Advance Market Commitment facility for African Manufacturers.

“Secondly that Africa CDC convenes a working group on pharmaceutical manufacturing,” he said.

In due course, the working group will be convened by the Africa CDC.

He said member states “have a responsibility to support manufacturers through preferential procurement policies, working in collaboration with their respective finance ministries”.

“The mRNA spokes must be well supported. Financial support is key to their sustainability. For them to secure loans and other investments, we as member states must demonstrate a strong will to prioritise African products in our procurement policies.

“We continue to make very good progress in the establishment of an AU Health Workforce Task Team. This structure will co-ordinate training, deployment, and the retention of health workers on the continent,” he said.

The COVID-19 Commission, he said, has been inspired by the success of the Africa Leaders Malaria Alliance and is now working on a proposal to establish an Alliance on Health Systems Strengthening.

“This alliance will use a scorecard-based visibility and accountability system so that we can all support, incentivise and reward one another for innovatively increasing health spending and manifesting good health outcomes. I heartily encourage full participation when the consultation procedures get underway this year.

“I will close by expressing my support for a campaign to replenish the Africa Epidemics Fund, formerly the COVID-19 Relief Fund,” he said.

President Ramaphosa said South Africa stands ready to support the AU Commission in ensuring this fund will help African countries respond to current and emerging health threats.

“As much as the World Bank’s Pandemic Fund has been invaluable, we must also be able to have our pandemic financing mechanism, as we did with COVID-19,” he said.

Source: South African Government News Agency