Victoria Falls — The President of Zimbabwe, H.E Robert Mugabe has called on African governments to prioritise health in their national development agenda. He said the health challenges facing the Region including communicable, maternal and child deaths and non-communicable disease require concerted efforts to tackle them.
“Let us therefore push health to take its deserved prominence on our agendas in our sub-regional groups, at the African Union level and indeed on the global forum,” he said as he officially opened the 67th session of the WHO Regional Committee for Africa going on currently in Victoria Falls.
“The adage that life is health and health is wealth holds true”, the president reminded the delegates adding that “we have all witnessed the interplay between health and development.
President Mugabe also noted that Africa is disproportionately represented on the global disease burden for communicable and non-communicable diseases. “We must ask ourselves why this is so, and more importantly, what can we do to arrest and reverse these trends,” he said.
According to President Mugabe, part of the solution to these health challenges is to evolve and continuously build the formal health care systems to respond to the currently broader health issues. This, he added, will have to go hand-in-hand with addressing many determinants of health through adoption of the right supporting policies and interventions in non-health sectors.
Such determinants of health, he pointed out, include educating the girl child, designing better roads, planning urban settlements, empowering communities and managing climate change. “We must therefore provide the solutions across these sectors for better health outcome, and as leaders, it is our duty to foster this broader approach, “he said.
In his remarks, the Director-General of WHO, Dr Tedros Gebreyesus Adhanom, informed the delegates that the Organization’s mission to “keep the world safe, improve health and serve the vulnerable” is set within the context of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which guide global development including public health. To achieve the mission, Dr Tedros outlined five strategies that will define WHO’s work for the period 2019-2023.
The strategies are the ability to prevent, detect and respond to epidemics including polio outbreaks and antimicrobial resistance; provision of health services in emergencies and rebuilding health systems in fragile conflict and vulnerable states; helping countries to strengthen systems to progress towards universal health coverage; drive progress towards the specific SDG health targets; and provision of a governance platform for health.
According to Dr Tedros, in order to fully implement the strategies, WHO will have to change and do its work differently. First, there will be more focus on outcomes and impact so that end results of WHO’s work are “the people whose health is protected or promoted by it”. Furthermore, WHO will become more operational especially in vulnerable and conflict states in addition to continuing with its normative and standard setting functions. Dr Tedreos concluded his remarks by reminding the delegates that “we are here because we care about the health of the world’s people. They must be foremost in all our minds this week. The challenges we face are great. So must be our ambitions.”
Addressing the session, WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, thanked the government of Zimbabwe for hosting the sixty-seventh session of the Regional Committee. She drew attention to the growing convergence of views on the need to strengthen health security and health systems which is being translated into action by the global community.
“Building stronger, resilient and responsive health systems, which reach all localities and citizens, is the best way to stop outbreaks from becoming epidemics. It is the best way to bring equitable health care to all people in Africa,” she said.
Highlighting some of the progress in the drive to eliminate diseases from the region, the Regional Director noted that WHO’s new ‘Treat All’ recommendations for HIV-positive patients have expanded coverage of antiretroviral therapy (ART) with 13.8 million people in the Region now receiving ART. The ESPEN, the Expanded Special Project for Elimination of Neglected Tropical Diseases set up last year to eliminate the five diseases amenable to preventive chemotherapy, has leveraged medicines donations for mass drug administration, reaching millions of people in the first year of operation. Dr Moeti also reinforced the importance of a comprehensive approach in addressing the Social Determinants of Health stressing that health is impacted by several factors outside the health sector. Furthermore Region is already seeing faster, more effective responses to outbreaks and an evaluation of the Reform programme initiated at the WHO secretariat shows significant progress made in accountability, compliance and risk management.
In her statement, the African Union Commission Commissioner for Social Affairs, H.E Amira Effadil, underscored the importance of strong partnerships and collective efforts to ensure that Africans have a high standard of living, quality of life, sound health and wellbeing as expressed in the aspirations of Agenda 2063.
“The ‘Africa we Want’ is within our reach and we as Africans need only to strengthen our partnerships and turn our Health Aspirations into a reality,” she stressed.
The 67th session of the WHO Regional Committee for Africa is the annual meeting of ministers of health from the WHO African Region where they discuss a range of strategies and actions aimed at improving the health and well-being of people in the Region. The Regional Committee is the Organization’s highest decision-making body on health in the Region and its decisions have over the years contributed immensely in the region’s health development.
The week-long session is organised by the WHO in the African Region and hosted by the Government of Zimbabwe. Among the dignitaries attending the meeting are; the newly-elected Director-General of WHO, Dr Tedros Gebreyesus Adhanom; WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, Representatives of UN Agencies, Funds and Programmes, civil society, bilateral, multilateral organizations and other development partners.
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