More coordination among African nations & inclusive leadership required to address upcoming health risks
Health experts have warned that the increase of non-communicable diseases (NCD) and the effects of climate change are threatening health security in Africa. This was discussed during the four-day Africa Health Agenda International Conference (AHAIC) that concluded March 8, 2023 in Kigali.
Africa still faces complex and interconnected health issues, according to Mohammad Abd El Fattah, undersecretary for preventive affairs at the Ministry of Health and Population in Egypt. More coordination among African nations and inclusive leadership are required to address upcoming health risks.
Githinji Gitahi, director-general of Amref Health Africa, the main AHAIC convener, said the conference took place at a critical time when the African continent has been shaken by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, wars and higher cost of living.
Although the burden of COVID-19 has lessened, recent outbreaks of other diseases such as ebola, marburg and cholera demonstrated that health security was at risk, same for the effects of climate change such as droughts, hunger and floods that are costing lives across the continent, he added.
The continent’s disease burden is heavy because 40 per cent of neglected diseases, 95 per cent of malaria and 36 per cent of tuberculosis cases occur here, Dr Githinji said.
He reminded that by 2030, deaths from non-communicable diseases are projected to exceed those from infectious diseases, child deaths, premature deaths and all women’s deaths combined. The death toll from diabetes itself might increase by 28 per cent by then, when 55 million people in Africa may die from diabetes and about 0.7 million from cancer, he added.
Yet, it was pointed out that because most NCDs are avoidable, implementing cost-effective preventative and curative interventions can greatly reduce the burden of NCDs. According to the international health regulator, reducing risk factors such as tobacco use, poor diets, physical inactivity and alcohol abuse can prevent up to 80 per cent of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and over a third of cancers.
Besides, he said although Africa contributes less in the emission of greenhouse gases and global warming, the continent remains the first to be affected by its effects. Therefore, he urged Africa not to continue negotiating country by country, but as a collective to ensure that Africa Union’s New Public Health Order, World Health Organization (WHO) Triple Billions 2025 target and strategies reflect people’s desires.
The current dispensation in delivering health services to the continent was not sustainable, highlighted the acting director of Africa Centres of Diseases Control, Ahmed Ogwell.
All 55 African Union member states must work together to address the shared health threats faced in Africa and beyond more holistically, he said.
Climate change adaptation and mitigation were major topics of discussion at the conference, converging to considering decarbonising the health system through steps like proper waste management and industry practices as priority.
Other factors taken into account included the requirement for pharmaceutical manufacturing, genomic data and unified regulatory frameworks, all of which were seen as essential to developing effective pandemic preparedness strategies.
The conference concluded that the climate change and health challenges facing Africa require evidence and developing compelling arguments for advocacy on behalf of vulnerable communities. Furthermore, it also suggested that the response to climate change must consider the needs of women and youth, not as token participants in discussions, but as active designers and implementers of health and climate policies.
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