Ministers Discussing Africa’s Health Agenda in Brazzaville

ADDIS ABEBA – World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Committee for Africa opened on Monday in Brazzaville, with Congolese President Denis Sassou-Nguesso calling for stronger health systems, concrete action on counterfeit medicine and universal access to health care.

The Congolese leader drew attention to ongoing health development initiatives in his country.

“Each meeting of the WHO Regional Committee for Africa should better highlight decisions and facilitate the consideration of African health issues by bodies such as the Executive Board and the World Health Assembly, said President Sassou-Nguesso.

“The endeavors of African States should be complemented by the global momentum for health for all. This is one of the best bets for humanity.”

In his opening remarks, WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus highlighted that many countries have made impressive progress in delivering essential health services at the district level, yet large gaps remain.

Only one-third of people in the 47 WHO Member States can access essential health services, and only one third can do so without fear of financial hardship.

“Strengthening primary health care must, therefore, be the number one priority for every country,” he said. “The best investment in primary health care is in human capital. Nurses, midwives, and community health workers are especially important for delivering services that can promote health and prevent people from needing a hospital.”

In welcoming the participants, the WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, highlighted
progress made by countries: Access to HIV services has expanded significantly, with the number of
people on anti-retroviral therapy having more than doubled in the past six years.

The region is recording some of the fastest declines globally in new cases of tuberculosis and is on the verge of polio eradication.

The Regional Director noted that political will is needed to tackle the emerging burden of noncommunicable diseases, which are expected to account for an additional 28 million deaths in Africa in the coming decade.

“All the health priorities and challenges I have mentioned coincide with an opportunity – that the day
for universal health coverage has finally come,” Dr Moeti said, “If governments, partners, WHO and other United Nations agencies combine our forces towards UHC we will be able to make health for all a reality for people in our region.”

Among the issues on the agenda of the five-day meeting is the Regional Strategy for Integrated
Disease Surveillance and Response which if implemented, will improve preparedness and response
to disease outbreaks.

Delegates will also discuss the strategic plan to reduce the double burden of malnutrition in the WHO African Region. The strategy provides guidance to countries to stem the tide of rising malnutrition, obesity and diet-related noncommunicable diseases by 2025.

The Health Ministers will also discuss how to bring vector-borne diseases under control and how to strengthen district health systems for achieving universal health coverage. They will also nominate the next Regional Director, who will serve a five-year term.

The Regional Committee is the highest decision-making body on health in the region, involving
ministers of health from the Member States of the WHO African Region.