Delegates at a high-profile health-themed conference held in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa on Saturday called for more investments to ensure universal health coverage in Africa.
The event, titled “The Africa Leadership Meeting: Investing in Health,” was hailed as the first of its kind on the continent during the 32nd African Union (AU) Summit. Speaking at the conference, Rwandan President Paul Kagame, who is also the rotating chair of the AU, said African governments should increase domestic expenditure in health sector to achieve national and international health-related goals, including the AU Agenda 2063 and the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals(SDGs). Kagame called on African governments to encourage the private sector to invest more in health-related services. Africa will get better results if it encourages the private sector to invest more in the health sector and to allow governments to focus on giving health services to vulnerable populations, said Kagame.
Ethiopian President Sahle-Work Zewde said Africa needs to have targeted and smart investments in the health sector to provide high quality and people-centered health services. Zewde emphasized that, with around 100 million people globally being driven to poverty annually due to high healthcare services cost, the focus on health services investment should be a national priority. “That is unacceptable. Health is a fundamental human right,”she said. Zewde cited Ethiopia’s robust health services investment as a reason, stressing that the east African country has been showing strong economic growth in recent years, creating a direct economic incentive to invest in health services.
Ethiopia created a robust health system that helped women and children to get access to health services, Zewde said, adding that the country also doubled government health spending, resulting in an increase of the average lifespan of Ethiopians from 52 to 65 years in about two decades. However, Zewde pointed out that Africa still accounts for some 24 percent of the world’s disease burden and around a quarter of new tuberculosis infections globally, showing the extent of health challenge on the continent. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres echoed both Kagame and Zewde in his speech. “Good health is at the center of our vision of a more sustainable, inclusive, peaceful and prosperous future. It is both an outcome and driver of progress, themes the September conference will focus,” said the UN chief.
Investment in health and the continent’s human capital are among the best steps we can take to ensure the success of the AU’s 2063 Agenda and the SDGs, said Guterres. However, Guterres warned that Africa’s countries need to further boost health expenditure and donors should avoid fragmented donation to achieve health targets in Africa. “We need to expand fiscal space for health and reduce fiscal fragmentation in donor support. I call on all partners to ensure successful replenishment of the multilateral global health financing mechanisms,” said Guterres. Saturday’s event attracted heads of state and government, AU Commission senior leadership and key private sector leaders. AU Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat and Co-Chair of Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Bill Gates were also present.
A document released at the event said African countries are gradually increasing domestic investments in health with 35 out of 55 AU members having lifted the percentage of their Gross Domestic Product invested in health over the previous financial year, citing the 2018 WHO Global Health Expenditure Database. It said these increased investments have seen visible results in communities across Africa with shining examples of strengthened sub-national and national health systems. However, it pointed out, while African countries have made huge strides in increasing domestic investments in health, only two out of the 55 AU members meet Africa’s target of dedicating at least 15 percent of the government budget to health. For the world’s most youthful continent, future growth and prosperity depends on developing and nurturing human capital, according to the release, which added that more than half of Africa’s population currently lacks access to essential health services, and millions die every year from commonly preventable diseases.