The WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Luis Sambo, has recommended six actions that countries should take to improve health, in the light of prevailing challenges and some opportunities.
Speaking at the start of the 63rd session of the Ministers of Health of the WHO African Region in Brazzaville, Congo, Monday, Dr. Sambo recommended the stepping up of efforts to achieve the health-related Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and reduce the burden of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) and neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), active participation by countries in discussions to define the post-2015 health agenda priorities and the implementation of the International Health Regulations.
Other actions include putting mechanisms in place to achieve universal health coverage along with carrying out WHO and Member State’s joint vision to improve the health of people.
He said since independence, countries had registered notable successes in the fight against diseases such as small pox (which has been eliminated); sleeping sickness (now only found in certain isolated pockets); river blindness (which is under control); polio (which has been considerably reduced), and Guinea worm disease, which is on the verge of being eradicated.
“This progress has been possible due to the re-orientation of health services in Africa which prioritises primary health care,” Dr Sambo said.
Referring to communicable diseases, Dr Sambo said countries were making efforts to reduce the burden and deaths attributable to diseases such as HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, pointing out that the release of WHO’s new guidelines on the use of antiretroviral therapy for HIV prevention and treatment was worthy of note in this regard.
Just as important, he said, is the publication of a road map for reducing the impact of NTDs and the adoption by the World Health Assembly of the Global Vaccine Action Plan.
He reminded delegates that in 2012, the Regional Committee endorsed the Brazzaville Declaration on NCDs with recommendations for countries to organise a multisectoral dialogue to develop a framework for addressing NCDs.
Regarding epidemic preparedness and response, the Regional Director said the African Public Health Emergency Fund (APHEF) is now operational with contributions from five countries totaling US$1.7 million.
Dr Sambo pointed out that recommendations to address the issue of mother, newborn and reproductive health are highlighted in a report of the Commission on Women’s Health in the African Region, chaired by Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
In her address, WHO Director-General Margaret Chan observed that the Region is experiencing “huge leaps ahead in human development, including steep declines in HIV infections, malaria, child mortality and fast growing rates of primary school completion.”
“Africa is changing. Africa is rising. Africa is at a unique juncture in its history,’ she said, advising the Region’s leaders to ensure equitable access to health care which she described as “one of the best ways to ensure that the benefits of economic growth are evenly distributed.”
She cautioned that critical political choices need to be made as African countries change for the better.
“Rapid economic growth carried a classic risk” she said, adding that “unless the right policies are in place, the rich get richer while the misery and sickness of the poor endure”.
Dr Chan underscored the importance of home-grown solutions to health problems, alignment of aid and universal coverage focusing on quality care and social.