World News The 36th African Union Session Renews Commitment Towards Strengthening Africa’s Health Systems

Posted by: Berhane Habtemariam

Date: Sunday, 19 February 2023

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During the 36th Ordinary Session of the African Union Assembly, the Department of Health, Humanitarian Affairs and Social Development in partnership with the World Health Organisation (WHO) seeks to work towards the reduction of communicable diseases including HIV/AIDS in Africa. It was noted that the pandemic was raging worldwide but had an acute impact across Africa. The spread of the disease affected every dimension of African society, and AIDS had lowered the life expectancy of adults on average by 20 years. 

In 2001, the Heads of State of Africa met in a special summit in Abuja explicitly devoted to addressing the unprecedented challenges of HIV-related disease, TB, and other related infectious diseases. This session, which came soon after the first UN Security Council Resolution in 2000, acknowledged the tremendous impact the spread of HIV was having on the continent not only as a health risk but also acknowledged the economic and security implications across the continent.

In 2013, African Heads of State and Government (HoSG) reaffirmed their commitment to the AIDS, TB and Malaria response at the Abuja+12 Special Summit. The declaration of the summit of the African Union on AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria committed to accelerating the mobilization of domestic resources to strengthen health systems; ensure strategies were in place for diversified, balanced and sustainable financing for health, in particular for AIDS, TB and Malaria and targeted poverty elimination strategies and social protection programmes that integrate HIV-related diseases, TB and Malaria for all; particularly for vulnerable populations.

The massive impacts of twin pandemics of COVID-19 and HIV-related diseases have highlighted what remains the largest threat to the Africa Union Agenda 2063 – Africa We Want. Africa’s experience attempting to control COVID-19 and HIV-related diseases (and the previous experience with the West African Ebola outbreak) exemplifies how huge gaps remain in the underlying strength of its health systems. The AIDS epidemic is still not over, nor is the continent on track to achieve an AIDS-free Africa by 2030.

The key objectives now are:

1. Sustaining political commitments – requiring every African Head of State to commit to setting quantitative targets for HIV control (and tracking progress), developing a roadmap to strengthening health systems for pandemic prevention in their country, and reforming policies that prevent vulnerable populations from receiving treatment;

2. Secure new financial commitments – engaging international donors (bilateral, multilateral, philanthropies) to identify new pools of capital and fund existing pledges while setting a GDP target for national health spending on HIV-related diseases and pandemic preparedness;

3. Acknowledge the role of the African private sector and strengthen the public-private partnership – outlining major regional initiatives on (a) health financing (for example low-interest loans), (b) health infrastructure (for example supply chains, facilities, data/digital tools), and (c) health manufacturing (for example diagnostics, treatments, vaccines) and by aligning national and international companies, investors, and governments to those areas to accelerate progress;

4. Elevate community, young people and civil society voices – raising the profile of advocates, PLHIV, community organizations, faith leaders and the youth who have been champions for the HIV/AIDS response and social and behavioural change (SBC) in their country.

Earlier the Africa CDC encouraged African Union (AU) Member States to actively participate in the Pandemic Fund activities and submit their  Expressions of Interest (EOIs) by the set date of 24 February 2023. The Africa CDC has made itself available to support AU Member States and other regional entities as they develop and submit their EOIs and proposals.

The Africa CDC is an observer at the Board of the Pandemic Fund. The Africa CDC is also an autonomous institution of the AU charged with the mandate for coordinating Africa’s disease prevention and control. Africa CDC is the convening platform for AU Member States on health security matters. Africa CDC is convinced that the New Public Health Order brings the changes necessary for improved global preparedness and response to disease threats and health emergencies. One key aspect is regional strategies and action, based on mandates of regional institutions like Africa CDC.

As an integral part of the African approach to pandemic prevention, preparedness and response, the African Union and Africa CDC initiated Africa’s New Public Health Order, which aims to set the course for how Africa deals with its public health realities. The New Public Health Order is built on five pillars, four of which all relate to the high-impact priorities set out in the first round call of the Pandemic Fund, namely surveillance and early warning, laboratory systems and health workforce.

Expected outcome: The consideration and adoption of the Declaration on Health Financing and Sustaining Action to End AIDS and related Communicable and Non-communicable Diseases.

In addition to leaders from the AU members states, there are regional and international organizations in attendance. The summit will adopt a series of protocols aimed at accelerating full implementation of health-related questions in Africa. The adopted protocols relate to the Agenda 2063 which is Africa’s development blueprint to achieve inclusive and sustainable socio-economic development over a 50-year period (2013 t0 2063).

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