Health Ministers and representatives from African countries, who met this week for the World Health Organization's (WHO) annual Regional Committee for Africa, expressed concern about the impact of COVID-19 and stressed that the pandemic is a moving reminder to countries that need to strengthen their health systems.The 70th session of the WHO Regional Committee for Africa - the decision-making body of the Organization - held in digital mode for the first time, due to COVID-19, also celebrated the historic achievement of poliovirus eradication in Africa. More than 500 people attended the meeting, including health ministers and officials from 47 member states, as well as representatives from UN agencies, intergovernmental organisations, civil society, academia and development partners.Since Africa confirmed the first COVID-19 cases in February, the continent has recorded more than 1.1 million cases. African governments have stepped up response measures, such as enhanced surveillance, detection and movement restrictions adopted even before the virus hit the continent."This virus has not only affected our health, but has also tested our way of life, social standards and economies in general. In Africa we quickly felt the impact of the pandemic because of the weakness of our health systems and the world's highest disease burden," said Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali.To counter the impact of the pandemic, Prime Minister Abiy called for better coordination of the COVID-19 response, a common voice to ensure fair and equitable access to vaccines, diagnostics and treatment, and strengthening health systems and public health emergency preparedness and response."COVID-19 has taught that strong health systems are a matter of national security and survival," he said.Mauritian Prime Minister Pravind Kumar Jugnauth stressed that a timely and decisive response was crucial to his country's success in reducing COVID-19 infections in five weeks after the first case was confirmed."It is crucial to have an efficient healthcare system at a time when we are experiencing the COVID-19 pandemic," said Prime Minister Jugnauth. "The government continues to invest significantly in the health sector for both present and future generations".An assessment of WHO progress on health systems performance as part of efforts to achieve universal health coverage has found that Member States in the region have gaps in capacity, with the most acute of which are poor access to services and low resilience of health systems. The COVID-19 outbreak highlighted the high risk countries face if their populations are unable to access health services and if systems are not resilient enough to absorb stress and support service delivery during a dramatic event."The coronavirus pandemic has once again demonstrated the importance of investing in health systems, improving equitable access to care and improving preparedness in the prevention and control of epidemics," said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa. "Recovery from this pandemic will be incomplete without strong measures to support health systems. We must seize the opportunity and make the leap forward to a better tomorrow.The WHO assessment recommends that Member States find ways to increase public funding to develop health systems, explore initiatives to increase access to services, review and identify necessary investment in health systems, implement measures to monitor health system performance at sub-national level, and improve the efficiency of available funding, in particular donor, private and grant funds.Dr Moeti also presented a report on WHO work in the African region covering areas such as universal health coverage, accelerating disease prevention and control outcomes, protecting people from health emergencies, and promoting health and well-being."It is not only what we do that is important, but also how we do it. We remain focused on achieving more effective and responsible results," said Dr Moeti.The Regional Committee is the highest decision-making body on health matters in the region, with the participation of the health ministers of the member states of the WHO African region. It meets once a year to examine critical health issues affecting the continent and to advise on appropriate strategies to improve health outcomes.
SOURCE: WHO AFRICA. Read the full article here.