The sixth African Union Health Ministers' Conference begins today (Tuesday, April 23rd) in the African Union Headquarters in Addis Ababa.
The theme is "The Impact of Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) and Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTD) on Development in Africa".
The experts' wing of the ministerial conference began on Monday and there will also be an experts meeting on AIDS Watch Africa on Wednesday (April 24th). Participants will observe World Malaria Day on April 25th. The ministerial discussions are taking place on April 25-26th.
Participants at the conference include officials of AU organs, representatives of non-AU member states accredited to the AU, regional economic communities, regional health organizations, UN agencies, civil society and non-governmental organizations as well as health professional organizations and ministers and officials.
During their discussion, the health experts called for urgent action to address the challenge of non-communicable diseases in Africa, to ensure that gains recorded in the health and socio-economic status of Africans were not reversed.
The experts suggested that NCDs could threaten the progress being made towards the UN Millennium Development Goals.
A rapid rise in NCDs could impede poverty reduction initiatives in low-income countries, in particular forcing up household costs associated with health care. Similarly, increased government expenditure on health, given the chronic nature of NCDs, would divert financial resources from other developmental programs.
Besides the exorbitant cost of dealing with NCDs, the often lengthy and expensive treatment, coupled with the loss of family breadwinners, would be likely to force millions into poverty. According to the African Union Commission's Department of Social Affairs, which helped organize the conference, the theme of the conference was inspired by the Africa Health Strategy 2007-2015 which states that African people are still confronted by the triple burdens of communicable and non-communicable diseases, as well as injury and trauma.
The social effect of these had certainly affected development in Africa adversely. The experts concluded that the main challenges in tackling NTDs in Africa included inadequate awareness of the impact of control programs in relation to the three big killers: HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis.
Up to 90% of the global burden of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) is believed to fall on Africa as these diseases flourish most in conditions of poverty and thrive in heat and humidity. Globally, an estimated one billion people are at risk of NTD infections, which they approximately 534,000 deaths annually.
Of the 14 diseases, mostly parasitic, listed as NTDs, a majority occur in Africa, spread by insects, multiplying through contaminated water and soil infested with the eggs of worms. Poor sanitation and limited access to basic health care also play a role in the heavy burden of these diseases on poor communities.
It was also noted that climate change can have a profound and adverse effect on some of the most fundamental social determinants of health, including the availability of food, clean air and water and on the possible re-emergence of diseases that have been largely controlled.
Neglected tropical diseases of this kind which severely debilitate affected communities include: Onchocercliasis, Trypanosomiasis, Schistosomiasis, Dracunculiasis and Filariasis.