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OPINION | Kevin Onyenankeya: Africa wake up. Stop paying lip service to public health funding

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The Covid-19 pandemic has uncovered Africa’s vulnerability and ill-preparedness for a public well being disaster. African leaders ought to get up and scent the espresso, writes Kevin Onyenankeya.


On Wednesday, 25 Might 2022, Africa commemorates the 59th anniversary of the Organisation of African Unity, now the African Union. 

As has been the apply, leaders throughout the continent will mount the rostrum with pomp to hold forth on the organisation’s legacies and rehash the jaded rhetoric about unity and shared heritage. However it’s an open secret that the Africa Union has confirmed to be a home divided in opposition to itself on many fronts. 

Relating to crucial insurance policies that may raise the continent from the backwaters of the worldwide financial system, you’ve many, nay, a cacophony of voices however no discernible collective purpose and technique to reaching it.

The unity home that the founders laboured to construct has lengthy change into a bureaucratic speak store, oozing cavalier grandstanding, brinkmanship and chicanery. As AU constituents work at cross-purposes, nationalism trumps a pan African ideology, financial progress stunts and unity eludes the continent. 

Six a long time of heading off cultural imperialism

Right this moment, after practically six a long time of heading off cultural imperialism, Africa’s famed cultural heritage stays destabilised and contested from inside and with out the continent. For an organisation with peace and unity as its overarching purpose, this is a long way travelled. 

Nonetheless, we have fun the founding fathers’ imaginative and prescient to foster a robust cultural id and fast-track political emancipation. Their need to forge a united entrance was a laudable goal for all intents and functions. 

Because the Africa month winds steadily to an finish, you will need to level our leaders to a weightier and really current want, poor public well being funding. The saying, well being is wealth, isn’t just an aphorism – it’s the bedrock for a productive workforce and the long run wellbeing of societies.

Sadly, the healthcare system in most African nations is a shambles – underfunded, understaffed resulting in poor service supply. In a number of African nations, particularly within the rural areas, many die over minor sicknesses taken as a right in different climes due to poor infrastructure and care within the damaged public well being services or the lack to pay for costly personal medical companies.

Throughout the continent, mom and baby mortality is quadruple the worldwide common. It needs to be miserable to the African leaders that just about three a long time after the institution of AU, the continent stays the epicentre of malaria illness accounting for 94 per cent of malaria deaths globally. 

Tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS stay rampant, whereas Lassa fever, a virus transmitted by rodents, breaks out intermittently in elements of Africa, particularly Nigeria, one of many so-called giants of Africa. In response to the Worldwide Finance Company (IFC), Africa’s healthcare is the worst globally. But, Africa’s per capita illness burden as a perform of disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) is roughly double the remainder of the world. Consultants say Covid-19 has worsened the state of affairs.

Unhealthy state of affairs 

Compounding the overwhelming well being burden is the unhealthy state of affairs the place nearly all of the African nations supply the majority of their medicine and gear provides from abroad entities. The few native medical and pharmaceutical firms have been crowded out by closely resourced multinationals leaving many African nations to the mercy of worldwide pharmaceutical monopolies. 

Though many elements of the African healthcare system are under the UN’s minimal threshold, African leaders have paid solely lip service to public well being funding. Over twenty years in the past, in 2001, African nations dedicated to allocating a minimum of 15 % of their budgets to well being care. Three years after, in Abuja, Nigeria the goal was raised to 19 %. Each the primary and second targets stay a pipe dream.

In response to the IFC, only some African nations might afford to spend the $34 to $40 a yr per person who the World Well being Organisation considers the minimal threshold for major well being care. At the moment, only some African nations, together with South Africa, commit as much as 10 per cent of their annual expenditure to well being.

Many African nations rely upon donors to struggle illness outbreaks. Africa has all the time regarded to the west for a treatment and vaccines, whether or not or not it’s HIV/AIDS, Ebola, Polio, smallpox, yellow fever, meningitis, typhoid or Lassa fever outbreak. 

Whereas we commend the interventions of worldwide non-profit organisations and multilateral companies, together with WHO in Africa, these efforts don’t go far sufficient. In addition to, there’s a restrict to worldwide cooperation and well being diplomacy. Africa leaders should realise that they can not rely upon outdoors intervention in perpetuity. 

READ | OPINION: Nicholas Aderinto – Continuous humanitarian help will not resolve Africa’s vaccine problem

Whether or not we prefer it or not, nations will all the time prioritise their very own residents in instances of worldwide well being disaster. Regardless of the groundswell of worldwide cooperation and solidarity in combating the Covid-19 pandemic by means of the COVAX vaccine distribution initiative, we noticed how the wealthy nations cornered the vaccines by means of their very own direct offers with the massive pharmaceutical firms. 

Whereas WHO and creating nations rightly denounced the so-called vaccine nationalism, one can’t blame the wealthy nations for prioritising the well being and wellbeing of their residents as a result of well being, like all politics, is native. Recall additionally the robust pushback from the US, UK and EU and their massive pharmaceutical firms in opposition to the request to waive vaccine patents by South Africa, India and a few not-for-profit organisations. 

Africa’s vulnerability uncovered 

Right this moment, these nations stay adamant about sharing the science or know-how concerned in vaccine manufacturing. The Covid-19 pandemic has uncovered Africa’s vulnerability and ill-preparedness for a public well being disaster. African leaders ought to get up and scent the espresso. 

Reliance on international support and worldwide solidarity to unravel deep-rooted healthcare supply challenges is unsustainable. Irrespective of its humanitarian disposition, the worldwide north would all the time look out for what’s finest for its personal citizen. Equally, massive Pharma firms comply with revenue and don’t give a hoot about so-called international solidarity or bask in pity-party. Even within the occasion of humanitarian help, there should all the time be one thing in it for them. That’s the method capitalism works.

How can the continent reverse its current dismal healthcare system, particularly its overdependence on donors? 

The start line is for African leaders to take a position massively within the well being sector. The IFC tasks that the continent might want to make investments about $25-$30 billion over the following decade to supply about 90,000 medical docs, 500,000 nurses, 300,000 neighborhood well being staff and over half a million-hospital beds. This requires substantial and sustained budgetary allocation to the well being sector. The present common funds of 5 per cent for healthcare is unsustainable and will negatively affect larger financial progress.

READ | OPINION: Samu Dube – Let’s deal with inequalities in healthcare delivered to the fore by Covid-19

Secondly, whereas funding in infrastructure and human capital improvement is essential, better consideration must be given to analysis and improvement, which is the least funded within the African healthcare ecosystem. The Covid-19 vaccine nationalism and the reluctance of huge multinational pharma firms to waive patents or license to permit poorer nations to supply vaccines and medicines at a value worth make it incumbent on African leaders to chart a brand new trajectory for the well being sector. 

There may be an pressing want for respective nations to reimagine their health-funding mannequin to prioritise medical analysis and improvement and innovation adoption. Large funding in analysis and improvement is a robust technique for decreasing dependency on the worldwide north for medicine and vaccines. Investing closely in medical analysis and improvement can foster the invention of other drugs and cures for a number of the widespread illnesses ravaging Africa.

Moreover, it might bolster native manufacturing. Native manufacturing is crucial in constructing an environment friendly provide chain system that may decrease the costs of important medicine and enhance entry to well being care companies, particularly for the poorest folks. With the intention to obtain this, African nations want to offer extra monetary incentives to native drug and medical gear producers within the type of tax cuts or the availability of particular goal finance autos to assist native manufacturing. 

Vaccine improvement and manufacturing hub

Leaders throughout the content material should be seized with the mission to capacitate universities and analysis institutes to develop and produce medicine. There may be already a cohort of African universities and analysis institutes engaged in innovative medical analysis. They should be supported with the mandatory funding and a conducive atmosphere. This may deepen partnerships between universities within the content material, particularly in analysis and improvement.

Thirdly, and this can be a long-term mission, African leaders should come collectively to ascertain a vaccine improvement and manufacturing hub. This centre will concentrate on creating vaccines to sort out the various illnesses ravaging the continent. The AU is best positioned to facilitate and maintain this sort of regional intergovernmental mission as a collective. Whereas few African nations have the monetary and scientific functionality to attain it alone, pooling sources and experience collectively could show to be probably the most expedient and cost-effective solution to realise this goal. 

Cease the silo mentality

Lastly, Africa should take a go away from the EU and work to enhance regional cooperation and integration. The present silo mentality the place nations embark on unique often-nationalistic methods is counterproductive. Elevated regional collaboration is essential to guaranteeing the well being safety of Africa’s teeming inhabitants. 

This yr’s Africa month provides an auspicious alternative for African leaders to rethink the healthcare funding mannequin and develop a blueprint that may guarantee environment friendly, accessible and reasonably priced healthcare supply and scale back the dependency on donors throughout Africa. 

African leaders should be intentional about healthcare enchancment as well being points have broad and long-term implications for the wellbeing and financial progress of societies. The founders of AU have fought and gained the political battle. The present leaders should emancipate their folks from the healthcare burden by upending the present poor well being budgets and dependency on donations. 

African leaders should realise that the worldwide north is just not the answer to their decrepit well being system. Well being safety lies inside the borders of their respective societies. An equitable, accessible, and reasonably priced healthcare system is feasible in Africa if leaders eradicate corruption, inefficiency and make investments persistently and considerably within the well being sector.

– Dr Kevin Onyenankeya is a Senior Lecturer and Head of the Communication Division on the College of Fort Hare. His analysis focuses on danger communication, significantly environmental and well being points. 

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