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WHO calls for stronger health systems to curb Covid-19


Health workers get ready to perform coronavirus tests at the Charlotte Maxeke Hospital

Johannesburg – Health Ministers and representatives of African countries recently voiced concern over the impact of Covid-19 at the annual World Health Organisation (WHO) Regional Committee for Africa, and stressed the need to bolster health systems.

The seventieth session of the committee, held virtually for the first time due to Covid-19, also celebrated Africa’s historic milestone in eradicating wild polio virus.

More than 500 participants, including ministers and officials from 47 member states, as well as representatives from United Nations agencies, intergovernmental organizations, civil society, academia and development partners attended the meeting.

Since Africa confirmed its first Covid-19 cases in February it has recorded more than a million cases. African governments have reinforced response measures such as enhanced surveillance, detection and movement restrictions taken even before the virus hit the continent.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ali said the virus has affected health, and also tested ways of living, societal norms and economies.

“In Africa we quickly felt the impact of the pandemic due to our weak health systems, coupled with the highest disease burden in the world,” Ali said.

To minimise the impact of the pandemic, Ali called for improved Covid-19 response coordination, a common voice to ensure equitable access to vaccines, diagnostics and treatment, stronger health systems and public health emergency preparedness and response.

“Covid-19 has taught us that strong health systems are a matter of national security and survival,” he added.

Mauritian Prime Minister Pravind  Jugnauth said decisive response was critical to his country bringing down Covid-19 infections in five weeks, after the first case was confirmed.

“It is crucial to have an efficient health system. The government continues to invest significantly in the health sector for both present and future generations,” Jugnauth said.

A WHO progress assessment on the performance of health systems found that member states have gaps in different capacities, with the most acute seen in poor physical and financial access to services, and low resilience of health systems.

The Covid-19 outbreak has underscored the high risk countries face, if their populations are unable to access available services, and if the systems are not resilient enough to absorb stress and sustain service provision during a shock event.

Africa WHO regional director Dr Matshidiso Moeti said the Covid-19 pandemic has proven once again the importance of investing in health systems, enhancing equitable access to care and improving readiness to prevent and control outbreaks.

“Recovering from this pandemic will be incomplete without strong measures to bolster health systems. We must seize the opportunity and make the leap for a better tomorrow,” she added.

The WHO assessment recommends that member states find ways to increase public funding to develop health systems, explore initiatives to boost access to services, review and identify the needed health system investments, set up measures to monitor the performance of health systems at the subnational level and enhance the efficiency of available funding, particularly donor, private and out-of-pocket funds.

Dr Moeti also presented a report covering areas such as universal health coverage, accelerating gains in preventing and controlling diseases, protecting people from health emergencies, promoting health and wellbeing.

“We remain focused on delivering in ways that are more effective, results-driven and accountable,” she said.