On December 14, 2021, the ACHEST ED Prof. Francis Omaswa, who is also a Commissioner on the Africa Health Agenda International Conference (AHAIC) Commission participated in a webinar on the “State of UHC in Africa”
The webinar was held on the sidelines of the virtual Conference of Public Health in Africa which took place from December 14-16, 2021 .
Below are the key messages from Prof. Omaswa:
• Universal Health Coverage (UHC) is a journey punctuated by many events. To us in Africa, the significant event has been the COVID-19 pandemic. It has been a wake-up call. The fact that we could not access vaccines when we needed them and other people had them – is something that our political leaders have noticed and there is a new way of looking at the health of the African people. Previously people who had resources would fall sick and get on to the plane to seek treatment abroad. However, with lockdowns, that was not possible. We now know that we must do better at home so that all of us can access the best possible health services.
• The other constraint to the achievement of UHC is the poverty levels. In Africa, it ranges from 30% to as high as 70%. But even under those conditions, we can achieve UHC with the resources that we have. We may not be able to do heart transplants, but we can reach everyone with Malaria, we can reach every woman with obstructed labour. The challenge is that we depend on other people for solutions. But we need local solutions which are owned and driven by African populations themselves. There is no reason why we are not able to get ourselves to solve our problems internally with our local, available solutions.
• The demand side: There is some sense of powerlessness. Communities are not empowered to demand quality health care from the duty bearers. So, a parent has a sick child, they go to the medical center, they don’t find medicines and they just shrug their shoulders and go to the traditional healer. Instead of going to the administrator and raise the issues. So empowering communities – on the demand side - is important.
• Even more, empowering communities to realize that responsibility for their health begins with them as individuals as families and communities. It is not the primary responsibility of government to ensure that you are clean, eat or sleep well . Responsibility begins with an individual. And once our people realise that they have a role to play themselves, they will give us a good tool to use, for holding the duty bearers accountable. I would like to see the campaign of “health is made at home and only repaired in hospitals when it breaks down.” The duty of the health system would be to keep people healthy without losing their health.
• Africa still depends on the international community or development partners in funding health care. We need to learn to work better with global resources so that they are helping us not just to fill gaps but to build comprehensive sector-wide health systems. Vertical programs do not build strong health systems. So this calls for strong governance, strong leadership, and evidence-based leadership.
In conclusion, COVID-19 has been a wake-up call and will be new punctuation on our journey as Africa to achieve UHC, with commitment from political leaders and technical leaders. Together we should mobilize our people to value their health and work for their health.
Compiled by Carol Natukunda, Communications Specialist ACHEST