Hundreds of delegates congregate in Nairobi to discuss use of evidence to influence the continent’s health agenda and priorities
Nairobi, November 24, 2014
The inaugural Amref Health Africa International Conference kicked off today with a call by Kenyan Cabinet Secretary for Health, Mr James Macharia, for increased efforts towards ensuring achievement of universal health care.
The Cabinet Secretary, who was the Guest of Honour at the official opening of the three-day conference, challenged delegates to find “appropriate means to reach every child, woman and man in the communities of Africa” with health care services. “This access would mean that every African, irrespective of their socioeconomic status, is able to get affordable and high quality health services,” he added.
Mr Macharia acknowledged that while progress had been made over the years to improve health care on the continent, the people of Africa continued to grapple with a high burden of disease, with dire consequences. Kenya, he said, is encouraging multisectoral partnerships to ensure incremental investment in education, training, recruitment and building appropriate competencies to respond to the realities on the ground.
He commended Amref Health Africa for its work in supporting the Government of Kenya, complementing its work in health care delivery and development.
“Amref Health Africa is very different from other NGOs; this is an organisation that goes way beyond the normal standards of other NGOs. They work quickly and efficiently, and they can be trusted. I am sure that they maintain the same high standards in all the other countries where they work,” he said.
Declaring the Conference officially opened, the Cabinet Secretary said that the meeting should produce recommendations that can be adopted by ministries of health across the continent in informing their health strategic plans and priorities.
Prof Richard Muga, speaking on behalf of Amref Health Africa’s International Board, thanked the Kenyan Government for its support for Amref Health Africa for the over five decades that the organisation has worked it the country, and the support provided by all other partner governments.
Good governance, he said was a critical ingredient for health institutions and systems. He noted that African health systems are faced with many challenges, including misuse and mismanagement of resources. “Studies have shown that 30% of resources available for health go to waste. As we seek to chart Africa’s health agenda in the post-2015 era, one of the questions we ought to be asking ourselves is how we can do better with what we have and how to maximise our potential,” he said.
According to Amref Health Africa Director General Dr Teguest Guerma strengthening Africa’s health systems was the answer to dealing with the continent’s health challenges.
“We should not continue treating the symptoms of our health systems. Instead we should tackle the root cause of our problems, and that is the weaknesses in our health systems. In this way, we can attain lasting and sustainable health change in Africa,” she said.
She singled out health care financing, human resources for health and community systems strengthening as three key aspects that need to be strengthened. The ebola epidemic in West Africa, she said, had illustrated the importance of these elements. “If the affected countries had strong health information systems to give an early warning of disease trends, if they had strong community health networks to give education and information after the outbreak was discovered, and if they had health facilities with enough equipment for diagnostics as well as enough qualified personnel, ebola could have been controlled very early and would not have killed as many people as it has,” observed Dr Guerma.
World Health Organisation Country Representative in Kenya, Dr Custodia Mandlhate, said the increased investments in Africa’s health sector had yet to be translated into health outcomes to enable attainment of the Millennium Development Goals by 2015. The continent, she added, was experiencing a rise in NCDs, as well as natural and man-made disasters, socio-political unrest and other crises that cause unnecessary death and injuries. She emphasised the importance of research in facilitating a good understanding of Africa’s burden of disease and the mounting of appropriate responses.
The three-day conference, which is co-organised by Amref Health Africa and the World Health Organization, brings together 400 delegates including senior government officials, health experts, researchers, scholars, and representatives of the corporate sector, non-governmental organisations and development institutions. Discussions will revolve around the post-2015 agenda, emphasising the importance of finding African solutions to Africa’s health challenges based on research, as well as health care financing, human resources for health and community systems strengthening.