Health ministers attending the World Health Organization’s 72nd Regional Committee for Africa in Lome, Togo have approved an eight-year strategy aimed at curbing disease and responding quickly to health emergencies.
More than 400 people participated from 47 countries, including about 30 health ministers, who attended the top annual health gathering in person, while others joined online.
After a week of discussions about some of Africa’s most pressing health issues, countries adopted a new strategy for creating more resilient public health systems for responding to infectious and chronic diseases, such as diabetes. The World Health Organization says early diagnosis and care could save the lives of many of the millions who die from the diseases.
The plan also commits countries to reach critical targets by 2030 to strengthen their ability to prepare, detect, and respond to health emergencies.
The WHO regional director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, says the ministers also have launched a new campaign to curb sickle cell disease. She notes it is one of the most common, yet least recognized illnesses in the region. However, like childhood tuberculosis, she says it has been pushed to the sidelines for far too long.
“As we have seen with COVID-19, the impact of sickle cell disease extends well beyond health, posing significant economic and social costs for patients and their families. We cannot afford to continue ignoring the threat, so greater investments, and stronger collaboration and partnerships, need to be prioritized,” said Moeti. “Childhood TB also does not typically receive much attention, even though one in every three TB cases among children globally occurs in our region.”
She says both require timely diagnosis and treatment, as do other diseases, such as monkeypox, that go largely ignored until they make headlines elsewhere.
Currently, she says 406 cases and seven deaths have been confirmed across 11 African countries. While these are far fewer cases compared to other geographic regions, she says there is a need to increase the response.
She notes there is a shortage of monkeypox vaccine and whatever is available is being used in wealthier countries, where the epidemic is raging. She says no monkeypox vaccines or antivirals are available in African countries.
“We are making a plea that the situation that African countries have experienced with COVID-19 vaccines should not be repeated. And we are still hopeful that with advocacy being carried out and the discussions with countries that are helping to produce the vaccines that we may obtain vaccine supplies for African countries. This is not the case up to today,” Moeti said.
Moeti says there is better news regarding COVID-19 coverage. She notes vaccination rates are going up among health workers, older people, and those at risk of severe illness, hospitalization, and death. While there is still much to be done, Moeti says she believes it is possible for African countries to catch up with the rest of the world.