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‘Leadership for better health’

‘Leadership for better health’ was the message emanating from Angola last week, as 46 African health ministers descended on the country’s capital Luanda for the 62nd WHO Regional Committee Session. The four-day event, also attended by nongovernmental organisations and representatives of UN agencies, provided a critical overview of the health related progress and problems over the last two years, reinforcing the need for greater cohesion between African states in the future.

High on the agenda: Non-communicable diseases

As outlined in my previous blog post, Regional Director Luis Gomes Sambo had stated in the run up to the meeting that special attention would be paid to growing concerns over the increase in NCD’s on the continent.

Unearthed from the Angolan online press this week, the main success appears to have been the pledge by ministers to commit to the Brazzaville Declaration on Non-Communicable Diseases as a framework for moving forward. Signatories of the declaration, originally drafted in 2011, have committed themselves to ‘develop integrated national action plans and strengthen institutional capacities for NCD prevention and control’ whilst at the same time urging to United Nations to ‘include NCDs prevention and management in all future development goals’. The declaration, originally drafted in 2011, was prepared for the health meetings to be held in Moscow in April and then for the UN Summit on NCDs in New York for later that year. If it is the same declaration, with current evidence suggesting that it is, it implies that little has changed over the last eighteen months to warrant an alteration of the existing declaration or the drafting of a new one.

At present, three quarters of African countries have initiatives in place to combat the rise of non-communicable diseases. The hope is that following high-level health specific meetings such as this one, other countries will follow suit and realise that if not already, NCDs are going to pose huge challenges to future development processes.  

Better monitoring systems

Brazzaville Declaration aside, information also emerged regarding the strengthening of systems for disease surveillance and trend monitoring of NCDs in Africa. This, along with acknowledgement that more people have to cope with the ‘double burden’ of infectious diseases combined with non-communicable diseases shows that awareness of chronic disease is integral to WHO future development projects in Africa.

The Gates Foundation

Elsewhere at the meeting, a new investment package from The Gates Foundation was announced, targeting improvements to vaccination data collection, analysis and treatment in an attempt to uncover better practices and pragmatic solutions that will lead to the further optimization of the system.

Cross-border cooperation

Dr. Sambo also placed emphasis on the importance of cross-border cooperation to combat the outbreak of disease at its source. He suggested the creation of rapid response teams between neighbouring countries and the pre-positioning of emergency kits to ensure that the spread of potential epidemics is contained and controlled as swiftly as possible.

Financial reductions

Whilst examining the role of the WHO in Africa over the last two years, Dr. Sambo was quick to make it clear that financial restraint and reductions have undermined but not prevented the progress of the WHO in Africa. As the global financial crisis ensues, it is testament to the WHO and their partners that development has not stagnated but continues to move forward.

Where was the media coverage?

On the face of it, the four-day summit appears to have been a success. But for all the positive developments that are emerging between African state and non-state actors, it would be of interest to know if people on the ground were concerned, or had any knowledge about the health issues facing their futures. In order for me to write this blog, I have relied exclusively on articles and reports from the Angolan online press and the WHO press office. Only in Angola, where the meetings were held, did the stories of the four-day session gain considerable online exposure. And even then, most of the articles appeared to use health issues in order to elevate the discourse of Angola’s rise.  

The next WHO Regional Committee session will take place in Brazzaville next September.

The views expressed here are independent and do not necessarily represent those of the staff or directors of EAF.

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