African leaders have called on governments across the continent to invest more in healthcare to fight the coronavirus and future pandemics. The appeal came as the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the African Union this week held the first Conference on Public Health in Africa.
Addressing the virtual meeting of African health workers and experts, Rwandan President Paul Kagame said governments could no longer ignore public health investment as the continent grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There needs to be renewed commitment by government and national parliaments to increase domestic financing for health in Africa. This has been a priority for the African Union for several years but progress has not been fast enough. We cannot continue to rely on external funding for something so important for our future,” he said.
Twenty years ago in Abuja, Nigeria, African governments agreed to allocate 15% of their budgets to health care. Only two countries, Rwanda and South Africa, met the target.
Africa has seen economic growth in the past few years but spending by governments on health has rarely increased.
Health experts blame the lack of healthcare spending on low GDP growth, tax collections, and competing priorities.
An Afrobarometer survey showed 46% of African citizens across 36 countries opposed paying more taxes to be used to improve healthcare.
Across Africa, most health facilities are concentrated in urban areas, effectively cutting off millions from accessing advanced medical assistance.
John Nkengasong, the head of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the continent needs a new approach to raise health investment.
“You all heard from our various leaders, political leaders, call for a new public health order that hinges on four things: strengthening public health institutions, workforce, expanding manufacturing on both vaccines, diagnostic and therapeutic, a respectful action-oriented partnership, which is all underpinned by the need to invest ourselves in supporting this domestic financing so that we can achieve these four goals,” he said.
African Union Commission Chairman Mousa Faki Mahamat pledged to support the development of health care systems that can deal with future challenges.
“I would like to assure you today that African Union Commission stands firm in our resolve to bolster manufacturing capacity for the vaccine, diagnostic and therapeutics to build resilient health systems capable of detecting future health threats, and to build a finance mechanism that allows member states to respond efficiently and effectively to health needs of the continent,” he said.
According to the Brookings Institute, Africa needs funding models that encourage domestic resource mobilization and prioritization of health.
For example, in 2019 Nigeria signed a $75 million financing agreement with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to strengthen the country’s primary health care provision fund.
Africa’s virtual conference on public health ends Thursday.