COVID-19 IS AN OPPORTUNITY TO RETHINK AFRICAN HEALTH SYSTEMS
Here is a discussion we should all have at this challenging time.
Human history is characterized by transformations that follow major upheavals and challenges. Examples include the creation of the League of Nations in 1920 and the UN system in 1945 that followed the World Wars 1 and 2 respectively. Others are the establishment of the African Centers for Disease Control after the Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2016. In Uganda, HIV led to the creation of the multisectoral Uganda Aids Commission; copied by other countries. COVID-19 pandemic is a major global upheaval that must trigger major transformations globally and in individual countries. There is evidence that the frequency of pandemics will increase and our preparedness and response is central to human survival. Louis Pasteur frightfully stated “Gentlemen, it is the microbes who will have the last word”. So how do we delay this?
Each country and the world should take stock of the experience of COVID-19 and apply lessons learnt to design future strategies. Globally, this is already happening; there is a WHO Panel studying COVID 19 origins, the UN General Assembly will convene to adopt a Pandemic Treaty and the June 2021 World Health Summit adopted the Kampala Declaration. A Scientific Advisory Group for the Origins of Novel Pathogens is being created by WHO for the One Health approach. What should African countries do?
African countries have learnt many lessons from COVID-19; among the most prominent are that disease outbreaks can bring a country to a standstill and that public health cannot be left to the market. Governments have a key role in ensuring that there are effective multisectoral systems in place for disease outbreak preparedness and response. Africa has also painfully learnt that capacity is lacking in the continent to manufacture essential technologies to control pandemics and that in this crisis, African countries are shamefully the last to access these essential technologies. Investing in health systems and the health economy must therefore become a top priority as a matter of life and death. The pathogen economy calls for the African disease burden to be reflected in the African economies; instead of being a source of wealth for other countries as is the case now.