Hads of the African Union (AU) members and guests pose for a group photo during the 26th AU summit in Addis Ababa, capital of Ethiopia, on Jan. 30, 2016.
Hads of the African Union (AU) members and guests pose for a group photo during the 26th AU summit in Addis Ababa, capital of Ethiopia, on Jan. 30, 2016.

Today heralds the 53rd anniversary of the Organization of African Unity (OAU)/African Union (for the past 14years).

Hads of the African Union (AU) members and guests pose for a group photo during the 26th AU summit in Addis Ababa, capital of Ethiopia, on Jan. 30, 2016.
Hads of the African Union (AU) members and guests pose for a group photo during the 26th AU summit in Addis Ababa, capital of Ethiopia, on Jan. 30, 2016.

It marks a great milestone in the lives of many Africans, who on this day 53 years ago, through representatives of their countries, made the decision to forge ahead in unity and brotherliness whilst promoting the total wellbeing of all Africans. How has the continent fed in more than a golden jubilee now? What concrete measurement could be made of key sectors of the continental growth?

Healthcare delivery is an engine of growth and development of every continent. The health of the people depicts the life in every nation. Preventive, diagnostic and curative medicine are key to ensuring a healthy life of the people. Has Africa done much to ensure the total health of its people? Are there good looks for the public healthcare delivery? And what’s left to be done?

The Continent of Africa is bedeviled with a myriad of health problems. The past three years tested the total strengths of an existing public health system of the Continent. The outbreak of an Ebola Virus Disease epidemic in December, 2013 across the West Africa Subregion led to the loss of the lives of tens of thousands. The outbreak brought to the fore the absence of adequate disease surveillance, control and monitoring by the health systems of many nations. There was fear and panic across the continent. Similar outbreaks did occur in the past as well but it took an international outcry to put the situation under control. There are warnings and scares of other similar viral diseases with the Lassa fever virus and zika virus being the top list.

The incidences of various neglected tropical diseases continue to be a worrying trend. Schistosomiasis, onchocerciasis, filariasis and Chagas diseases continue to be present largely in the Sub-Saharan regions of the continent. Malaria continues to kill millions of children across the continent. Malnutrition exists in its full gear. Cholera devastates thousands of lives across the continent every year. Maternal and child health remains a challenge in many nations with over 360000 maternal deaths and 4million children under 5years losing their lives worldwide and Africa accounting for nearly 65% of them. HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis morbidity and mortality remain a major burden in the youth and working class. Adolescent reproductive health delivery is still a mirage with increasing numbers of teenage pregnancies and abortions in many nations continently. Typhoid and other amoebic infections still bedevil the lives of the young and old.

Are we doing enough as a continent to stop these health challenges? What concrete steps are the continental leaders taking together with African health experts to reduce if not eliminate the disease burden and other public health concerns? The current state of public health systems of many African countries leaves us much to worry about. Majority of the Nations’ public health delivery systems are near collapse if not collapsed. The African public health system operates mainly based on “wait till there is a disease outbreak; then we can mobilize ourselves”; the public health systems are REACTIVE in nature.

Many African countries continue to spend millions of dollars importing drugs and vaccines for treatment or management of the “African diseases”. At a submit in Abuja in 2001, a declaration by each nation of committing at least 15% of its annual budget to fighting Neglect Tropical Diseases has fallen apart with just about 5countries making the commitment. Whilst efforts are made by healthcare educators to bridge the health worker to patient ratio, Brain drain is still a top notch issue worth tackling by many a nation of Africa.

What’s the way to go? How do we overcome the current health challenges? Africa needs a very robust public health delivery system capable of providing critical research into the numerous tropical disease, combating the spread of communicable diseases, developing innovative drug therapies and promoting the total health of every individual on the continent.

Though there exists few public health structures in some countries, these do not function to the ultima they are created to or do not function at all. There is missing the existence and operation of continental public health policy system with a total commitment to implementing. The Ebola crisis of 2013 has exposed greatly the weakness of the public health diagnostic systems. Laboratory diagnostic service is an essential pillar in arresting epidemics outbreaks anywhere in the world. The turnaround time for getting accurate diagnosis was a major challenge so revealed. Initials samples were transported miles for diagnostic purposes that could take days to get the results out.

Public health diagnostic laboratory needs to be built, strengthened and empowered with the capacity to provide prompt diagnosis.

The public health research facilities have been just “white elephants” in some instances and others nonfunctional. At the outbreak of the yellow fever disease in the 1970s, public health laboratories in Nigeria were empowered to produce vaccines to the virus. They executed the mandate at a space which contributed to the successful fight of the disease. Today, those laboratories are no longer in operation. Where did we go wrong?

Governments of many nations look to the West to import every antibiotic, vaccines and even painkillers. What’s stopping the public health laboratories and pharmacies across the continent be empowered to undertake this? Why do we wait for the Americas to find solutions for malaria parasite devastations on the Continent? Whilst billions of dollars are lost through corruption and mismanagement. The continent finds itself an excuse of poverty and inadequate of monetary capacity to establish such prompt systems. A continent rich in its natural and human resources has its fate hanging on the availability of loans and grants from other continents and China.

The leadership of the continent needs to wake up to the call, eschew selfishness and greed and work assiduously for the total health of the African. With 7years to attain 60, an age of retirement of public sector workers in many nations, the OAU/AU must do more in order to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals on health as outlined in the United Nations Charter 2015. Countries across the continent must commit themselves to strategies that would ensure the retention of healthcare workers on the continent whilst training more to meet the health worker-patient ratio. It is estimated that for each healthcare worker working home on the continent, thrice of that works outside the continent. Cases of political instabilities and low wages/enumeration have been key factors of brain drain in many nations; of which all are solvable if the African leaders commit themselves to it.

As the African leaders gather to discuss issues and find solutions to better the lives of people, it is hoped that the health of the people on the continent would be key in their deliberations. We simply cannot make progress with the numerous threats of diseases and disease outbreaks. Leaders on the continent must stop the talk and walk the talk in ensuring the total wellbeing of the African.

Happy 53rd anniversary to Africans across the globe. May Africa live to be a “disease-free” continent.

Source: Maxwell Akonde, MLS (AHPC-G)
Medical Advocate; Cofounder, Patient Safety Advocacy Africa – PSA2
[email protected]

Kyeremeh D. Evans, MLS (AHPC-G)
Medical Advocate; President and Cofounder, @patientsafetyadvocacyafrica
[email protected]

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