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Africa converges in Kigali for health summit


Dr Adelaheid Onyango, WHO Director Universal Health Coverage (in pink), Dr Githinji Gitahi, Group CEO Amref Health Africa (middle), and state minister for health Rwanda, Dr Yvan Butera, at Kigali wogging event ahead of the Africa Health Agenda International Conference (AHAIV) 2023. [Mercy Kahenda, Standard]

Health experts from African countries and across the globe have converged in Kigali, Rwanda, to deliberate on efforts towards strengthening healthcare systems amongst countries of the continent.

This comes at a time when Africa is grappling with the devastating impact of climate change.

The fifth edition of The Africa Health Agenda International Conference (AHAIC) 2023, kicked off on Sunday, March 5 and will end on March 8. The conference will run under the theme "Resilient Health Systems for Africa: Re-envisioning the Future Now".

The biennial conference will bring together a diverse set of global health experts and leaders to exert and unpack solidarity in health financing within the context of prevailing and future pandemics.

It will also address the matter of prioritising health investments in response to pressures, and the impact of climate change on human health.

The event is convened at a time Kenya, Africa and the globe at large are faced with the ripple effects of climate change that threaten the healthcare system.

The continent is also grappling with outbreaks of diseases including cholera, malaria and malnutrition, caused by adverse effects of climate change.

Group CEO, Amref Health Africa, Dr Githinji Gitahi, said there is an urgent need for African countries to unite and strengthen their health systems, and address climate-related health challenges.

"We are seeing extreme effects of weather like flooding, which is affecting sanitation, and outbreak of diseases like cholera, which require quick solutions," said Dr Githinji.

He acknowledged that changes in climate witnessed in Kenya, Africa and across the globe are caused, in part, by developed countries but there is need to find mitigation.

Africa, he said, suffers more, from the effects of climate change.

For example, Africa is reporting erratic weather patterns, an issue that has contributed to food insecurity.

Children are also missing out on vital vaccines because their parents move in search of food and pasture for their livestock.

Globally, at least 25 million children globally miss out on key vaccines.

"The biggest challenges on climate change are coming from developed countries, for instance, use of fossil fuels, industrialisation, emission of greenhouse gases.

We have no choice but think of improving our health systems, nutrition and how we do better agriculture, and change health systems in preparation for outbreaks and pandemics," said Githinji.

Dr Adelheid Onyango, WHO Director of Universal Health Coverage, in Africa added that experts and leaders should work hand in hand to find solutions to ripple effects of climate change that are facing the African continent.

"We are witnessing more cases of malaria, yellow fever, cholera, and more diseases linked to climate change. We therefore need solutions," she said.

The establishment of a vaccine manufacturing plant for Africa is also one of the agenda for the conference.

Dr Onyango said the discussion to have a vaccine sufficient Africa is ongoing.

According to her, there is need for consistent supply of vaccines, for the fight against future pandemics.

"WHO has been in the forefront in ensuring Africa gets solutions to access of vaccines, because nobody is safe until everyone is safe," said Dr Onyango.

On vaccine manufacture, Githinji said Africa is on course to set up vaccine manufacturing plants, for self-sustainability.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, Africa suffered vaccine nationalism, an issue that contributed to deaths and mutilation of the virus.

"Vaccine sharing is not about charity or distribution of rich countries, but Africa can manufacture her own vaccines so that we are commodity secure," he said.

The Covid-19 pandemic increased nationalism in the global north, denying Africa much-needed access to funding for health and climate adaptation and mitigation.

"If we are to address the emerging threats at the intersection of health and climate change, African countries must present a united front at global health and climate forums," said Githinji.

The event will also address the fragmented efforts that have long stood in the way of holistic progress on the continent.

On his part, Dr Ahmed Ogwell Ouma, Acting Director, Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) acknowledged that African countries must take responsibility for their role in underinvesting in their health systems.

"We must recognise that African-led solutions to African challenges still require some level of global support because there can be no global health security if Africa continues to be left out," said Ogwell.

Ogwell added, "We know that multilateral systems have not always delivered equitably for us, and the COVID-19 pandemic served as a poignant reminder of Africa's ranking within the hierarchy of global health"

"We need to have one message for one Africa when we present our asks and demands at UNGA 78 and COP 28 because it is only then that we can influence the global policy changes required to meet the needs of the African people," said Dr Sabin Nsanzimana, Minister of Health, Rwanda.

The conference kicked off with a wogging event yesterday, during the Kigali Car Free Day, as part of efforts to promote climate action for health.

The car-free day takes place every first and last Sunday of the month, as part of efforts to make Kigali a green city and strengthen efforts to combat Non-communicable diseases (NCDs).

The conference brings together representatives from African States to advocate for a unified continental voice ahead of their participation at the 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA 78), and the 28th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 28) taking place in September and November respectively this year.

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