An African leader has urged his colleagues to strengthen primary healthcare and invest more in human capital to achieve universal health coverage on the continent.
Congolese President, Denis Sassou-Nguesso, said this at the World Health Organisation (WHO) Regional Committee for Africa in Brazzaville which opened on Monday.
The committee is the highest decision-making body on health in the region, and involves ministers of health from the Member States of the WHO African Region.
It meets once a year to review critical health issues affecting the continent and to advise on appropriate strategies to improve health outcomes.
Mr Sassou-Nguesso, while welcoming the delegates from the 47 WHO Member States in the African region to Congo, said “only stronger health systems and concrete action on counterfeit medicine would make universal health coverage achievable on the continent”.
Mr Sassou-Nguesso, in a press statement made available on theWHO website, also urged African States to thrive to complement “the global momentum for healthcare delivery for all.”
“This is one of the best bets for humanity,” he reportedly said.
Mr Sassou-Nguesso, said each meeting at the forum should highlight decisions and facilitate the consideration of African health issues by bodies such as the Executive Board and the World Health Assembly.
In his opening remarks, WHO Director-General, Tedros Ghebreyesus, said many countries have made impressive progress in delivering essential health services at the district level, “yet large gaps remain”.
He said only one-third of people in the Member States can access essential health services, and “only one-third can do so without fear of financial hardship.”
“Strengthening primary healthcare must therefore be the number one priority for every country. The best investment in primary healthcare is in human capital. Nurses, midwives and community health workers are especially important for delivering the services that can promote health and prevent people from needing a hospital,” he said.
Also, WHO Regional Director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, highlighted the progress made by countries.
She said access to HIV services has expanded significantly, with the number of people on antiretroviral therapy doubling in the past six years.
“The region is recording some of the fastest declines globally in new cases of tuberculosis and is on the verge of polio eradication. However, political will is needed to tackle the emerging burden of noncommunicable diseases, which are expected to account for an additional 28 million deaths in Africa in the coming decade.
“All the health priorities and challenges I have mentioned coincide with an opportunity – that the day for universal health coverage has finally come. If governments, partners, WHO and other United Nations agencies combine our forces towards UHC we will be able to make health for all a reality for people in our region,” Ms Moeti said.
She called for a minute of silence in honour of health workers who have lost their lives while on the job.
She remarked that, in the face of complex challenges, the Member States are better prepared to respond to emergencies “but must overcome huge funding gaps in implementing national action plans for health security.”
She also commended the government of the Democratic Republic Congo for demonstrating “sound leadership and ownership of the response to the Ebola outbreak, in coordination with partners.”
Among the issues on the agenda of the five-day meeting is the Regional Strategy for Integrated Disease Surveillance and Response which, if implemented, will improve preparedness and response to disease outbreaks.
Delegates will also discuss the strategic plan to reduce the double burden of malnutrition in the region.
The strategy provides guidance to countries to stem the tide of rising malnutrition, obesity and diet-related noncommunicable diseases by 2025.
The health ministers will also discuss how to bring vector-borne diseases under control and strengthen district health systems for achieving universal health coverage.
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