By Linda Ike
African Health Ministers have endorsed a new strategy to tackle major health challenges in Africa.
The strategy which was adopted yesterday in Lome, Capital of Togo is known as PEN-PLUS which will build on existing WHO initiatives for integrated detection, diagnosis, treatment and care of diseases at First level referral in Primary Health Care Facilities.
The region’s foremost public health gathering held annually will discuss and agree on measures to lower the burden of diseases, seek ways to curb the drivers of ill health and adopt strategies to promote access to health services and people’s well-being.
The Seventy-second session of the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Committee for Africa, declared open by the President of Republic of Togo, Faure Essozimna Gnassingbé is the first to be held in-person since the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic.
Director General, World Health Organisation , Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus handed a certificate to President, Faure Essozimna Gnassingbé of Togo for having eliminated the four neglected tropical diseases in his country, a leader in the region on innovative ways to respond to health problems.
A statement by WHO indicated that Togo is the first country in the world to be recognized by WHO for eliminating four neglected tropical diseases: lymphatic filariasis (commonly known as elephantiasis), human African trypanosomiasis, or sleeping sickness, trachoma – an eye infection that can cause irreversible blindness – and Guinea worm.
President Gnassingbé while accepting the certificate said, “I thank you for the appreciation shown for my country for the achievement in eliminating the neglected tropical diseases,
“In Africa, like everywhere else in the world, we must confront the ongoing (health) challenges, but more so act, act to guarantee access to quality health care for all, everywhere and at all times. Act to provide social protection and universal health coverage to all citizens, and act to put an end to counterfeit and poor-quality medicines. Clearly, we have much to do.” he said.
WHO Director General added that apart from COVID-19 pandemic, the African region is also battling other health challenges triggered by outbreaks of communicable diseases, humanitarian crises, climatic shocks and the rising burden of chronic disease such as cancer and diabetes, stating that the region faces more than 100 health emergencies yearly, than any other region in the world.
He said, “We are calling on all Member States to make an urgent paradigm shift towards promoting health and well-being and preventing disease by addressing its root causes and creating the conditions for health to thrive.”
The African Union Commissioner for Humanitarian and Social Development Affairs. Minata Samate Cessouma noted that since the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on health service provision across the African region, devastated economies, lives and livelihoods, that the aftershocks of COVID-19 are also inspiring new efforts to rethink and rebuild health systems to not only better withstand the impact of health emergencies, but to markedly step up the quality and accessibility of health services.
“Investing in the health system in Africa is essential to achieve our development targets. This investment must be substantial and strategic for health and global economic security,” Cessouma said.
WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti disclosed that
Ministers of health and delegates at the Regional Committee will discuss and endorse key strategies and launch campaigns on disease prevention.
Dr. Moeti said, they will also endorse measures to strengthen emergency response and promote the use of technological solutions to tackle health challenges, building on lessons learnt from the COVID-19 pandemic response.
“Equity is a key factor in health outcomes in Africa, and globally. Nothing has better demonstrated the urgency of addressing it comprehensively and effectively than this pandemic,”
“Inequity is a key driver of vulnerability to disease and illness. I‘d like to urge that we collectively address it at the centre of our health action.”he stated.
WHO said, about 700 participants including representatives from United Nations Agencies, Nongovernmental Organizations, Civil Society, Academia and Development Partners are attending either in person or virtually the five-day meeting in Lomé.
It explained that the Regional Committee is the WHO’s decision-making body in the region, convening once a year to discuss and endorse regional policies, activities and financial plans to improve people’s health and well-being.
It stated that the strategy adopted yesterday will support building the capacity of district hospitals and other first-level referral facilities to diagnose and manage severe noncommunicable diseases early, resulting in fewer deaths.