Brazzaville – With at least 100 health emergencies a year in Africa, ranging from epidemics to natural or man-made disasters, health emergency partners are mobilizing to reform the continent’s current crisis response architecture.
Member States and health emergency partners meeting in May at the Seventy-fifth World Health Assembly called for comprehensive reforms to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Global Health Emergencies Program to address shortcomings such as the need for a dedicated global health workforce for emergencies, equitable access to vaccines, medical oxygen and other essential medicines, in addition to investing more in health-related infrastructure.
Although significant progress has been made in responding to health emergencies, with the average response time dropping from 131 days in 2017 to 45 in 2019, protracted and emerging conflicts are driving humanitarian crises in 13 countries in the African region, countries of the Sahel being the worst. affected.
Currently, the Horn of Africa is experiencing one of the worst droughts in recent history, with an estimated 15-20 million people severely affected in Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia. These humanitarian emergencies exacerbate the risks of epidemics and nutritional crises, putting further strain on already overstretched health systems.
“Africa experiences more epidemics and health emergencies than any other continent in the world, many of which are preventable or controllable through proven public health interventions,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, Regional Director of the World Health Organization (WHO) for Africa.
The COVID-19 crisis has reaffirmed the importance of resilient health systems – with the necessary manpower, tools, technologies and supplies. A study carried out in January 2022 in 18 countries in East, West, Central and Southern Africa found that those most resistant to COVID-19 were those whose health systems were centered on health care services. primary health.
An effective emergency response is partly hampered by the lack of sufficient health workers and doctors in most countries on the continent. For example, while 10,000 doctors graduate each year from the 147 medical schools in sub-Saharan Africa, the continent still lacks qualified medical personnel with a patient-to-doctor ratio as low as 1 doctor per 50,000 patients in some countries, compared to the WHO standard. of a doctor for 600.
Building Africa’s defenses against future health system shocks begins with recognizing preparedness as a priority on national development and national security agendas.
“It starts by shifting the narrative to what matters: our common humanity and every person’s right to equitable health care, no matter where in the world they live,” Dr Moeti said.
“Africa CDC’s growing complementarity with organizations such as the WHO and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is a promising development that will pave the way for a health-secure Africa,” said Dr. Ahmed Ouma Ogwell, Director Deputy of the African Center for Health. Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC).
Global health security involves collective action and cooperation between scientific institutions, policy makers, governments, industry and civil society, among others.
“These decisions are very important in the context of diseases and other epidemics that have a ripple effect; we are all on the same page,” said Dr Salam Gueye, Director of Health Emergencies and Preparedness at the WHO Regional Office for Africa. “But because they require global consensus, they may take two or three more years to mature, which is time we cannot afford to waste in Africa.”
In Africa, some of the inequities seen during the COVID-19 pandemic are already being addressed through enhanced global surveillance for international pathogen data and sample sharing.
The African health emergency response community has taken a more pragmatic approach to reforming the continent’s emergency architecture. A plan to establish a comprehensive program with centers of excellence to promote aspects of health workforce training, surveillance and response has been developed.
To launch this program, training is expected to begin in mid-June for one thousand – out of a total of three thousand – dedicated emergency health professionals, who will be on call to respond to various emergencies on the continent. Entitled SURGE (Strengthening and Utilizing Response Groups for Emergencies), it is the first of a group of three flagship programs dedicated to health emergency preparedness and response, intended to equip countries and plan for health emergencies.
At the heart of all flagship plans is the combination of geographic information systems and community surveillance, in addition to networks of investigative laboratories, risk communication and community engagement platforms to build the capacity of countries to respond to crises. Partners are investing in the establishment of a “one health” philosophy, which integrates the environment, human and animal health and the socio-economic aspects of health security, as an underlying principle of resilience to crises.
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