Nairobi — The independent Africa Health Agenda International Conference (AHAIC) Commission has unveiled the State of Universal Health Coverage (UHC) in Africa Report, a comprehensive document that maps the progress of African countries towards their UHC goals.
The coverage of essential services required by women and girls in Africa is low, with data indicating that between 2015 to 2019; only 49 per cent of African women had their demand for family planning satisfied by modern methods, this is according to the State of Universal Health Coverage (UHC) in Africa Report.
The report shows that the coverage with essential health services in Africa is in-equitable with the demand for family planning satisfied among the rich being four times that the poor.
A review of progress related to women's sexual and reproductive health, shows that progress towards gender equality has not been even although progress has been made.
In the current state of global chaos around the COVID-19 crisis, the impact on girls and women's sexual and reproductive health has been of great consequence with the reality that the crisis will have a truly devastating impact on the futures of millions of girls and young women.
Speaking after the launch of the report, Dr. Githinji Gitahi, Global CEO, Amref Health Africa, said: "The COVID-19 pandemic has pointed out the glaring gaps in African - and global - health systems and made a strong case for the urgent achievement of UHC. While progress towards achieving Health for all has been slow, the current reality has reinvigorated countries' efforts to ensure better access to quality, affordable health care."
Of great concern is the barrier in accessing essential sexual and reproductive health information and services amid a pandemic that is straining even the most robust of healthcare systems.
In an interview with Capital Health, Dr. Amina Dorayi, Nigeria's Country Director at Pathfinder International noted that applying a gender lens to Universal Health Coverage (UHC) through a health systems approach, a sustained collaborative effort supported by political commitment, together with mobilization and rational allocation of resources, can bring about a brighter future for sexual and reproductive health.
"The pandemic has shown us that we need to do things differently, one being the use of technology to reach those in need of SRH care. With the disruption to schools, health services and community centers, new ways of providing information and support to women and girls need to be established," Dr. Dorayi stated.
"This can include social media and remote learning, but comprehensive sexuality education must also be included in distance learning packages and considerations made for those who do not have access to digital resources," she explained.
As the world grapples with COVID-19, challenges both in access and provision of care in accessing SRH care were recorded and as such the need to develop and implement a comprehensive policy and regulatory framework to govern the adoption of digital and other technologies in the health sector, as well as leverage digital health solutions to develop and implement UHC reforms was paramount.
"In many African countries sexual and gender based violence heightened during the pandemic because most the girls and women are living with the perpetrators. We have to use the power of technology to ensure that the SRH services and self care methods are easily availed to women and girls in need."
The State of Universal Health Coverage (UHC) in Africa Report also highlights the importance of investing in the physical infrastructure to support the development and adoption of 4IR technologies in the health sector. Invest in country capacity to drive and support innovations and create an enabling business environment.
The report recommends implementing policies that take advantage of the demographic dividend through strengthening of investments in adolescent, youth and women health, including sexual and reproductive health, family planning.
Invest in education for adolescents, youth and women. Achieving the demographic dividend requires that over 60 percent of the population have attained good quality tertiary education.
Promote economic policies that target the expansion of employment opportunities for youth and women.
According to the report, Africa's health systems are poorly attuned to meet the health care needs of the poor, the disabled and other vulnerable groups, with coverage of essential health care services in Africa being decidedly low: only 48 per cent of the population (approximately 615 million people) receives the health care services they need.
Quality health care services provided in African countries is also low and is considered the poorest performing indicator of UHC - when the quality of health care services is considered, service coverage scores across African countries are even lower.
Despite these challenges, the report notes that the 21st century has seen African leaders show stronger political will to achieve UHC, creating an opportunity for countries to push the needle on change. The Commission highlights key opportunities that African countries can leverage to accelerate progress towards UHC, including political will, well-trained and competent health professionals and projected economic growth.
Meanwhile, President Uhuru Kenyatta has appealed to African Governments to put the youth at the core of their Universal Health Coverage (UHC) programs saying young people have the energy, motivation and know-how to drive the agenda forward.
"The youth are a key constituency in driving momentum towards UHC, that should not be side-lined. We should engage with and empower our youth; giving them the knowledge and skills to take charge of their health," the President said.
President Kenyatta spoke on Monday at State House, Nairobi when he delivered the opening address at this year's Africa Health Agenda International Conference (AHAIC21) held virtually.
The President said health challenges facing young Africans such as HIV/AIDS, mental health and substance abuse had been worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic.
To make the UHC aspiration a reality, the President said African nations need to focus more on the expansion of primary health, increase access to health services, make healthcare affordable and harness the innovativeness of its youth.
The Head of State also called for stronger collaboration and coordination among stakeholders, improvement of health security and more political will to advance the UHC agenda.
On primary healthcare, the President said besides providing curative medical services priority should also be given to preventive aspects such as maternal and child health, water, sanitation, and hygiene services.
"Currently, about 600 million people across the African continent do not have access to health services. To address this, we must make increased investments in physical facilities, medical equipment, drugs, and trained personnel," the President said.
On strengthening of collaborations in the health sector, the President advised stakeholders to copy the example of the African Union mechanism that saw the continent develop and successfully implement a common COVID-19 response strategy.