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Ambitious initiative launched to boost Africa's health system

Outgoing AU chairperson and Rwandan President Paul Kagame shakes hands with UN secretary general Antonio Guterres on the sidelines of the African Union summit in Addis Ababa,  Ethiopia. Picture: Supplied

Outgoing AU chairperson and Rwandan President Paul Kagame shakes hands with UN secretary general Antonio Guterres on the sidelines of the African Union summit in Addis Ababa,  Ethiopia. Picture: Supplied

Published Feb 11, 2019


Johannesburg - Rwandan President Paul Kagame ended his tenure as AU chairperson with aplomb this weekend, following the launch of a highly ambitious initiative to fund the continent's healthcare.

Saturday's launch, conducted on the sidelines of the AU summit at a meeting chaired by Kagame, drew high-profile delegates who included billionaire American philanthropist Bill Gates and UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres.

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Together with the continent's free trade agreements, this has been one of Kagame's key areas of focus during his 12-month tenure as chairperson.

The African Leadership Meeting on Investing in Health is the first of its kind, drawing together governments, the private sector and global organisations. It seeks to attract billions in investment in Africa's healthcare from both state and private players.

The initiative comes in the wake of concerns that African governments were not putting enough money into healthcare, with only two out of the 55 AU member states meeting the target of investing at least 15% of their budgets in health care.

Africa, which has 16% of the world's population, accounts for 24% of the disease burden and yet receives just 1% of global health spending, according to the AU.

This initiative seeks to correct this picture, but delegates pointed out that bureaucracy, lack of political will and scarce skills and resources had to be addressed urgently in order to support this move.

Some warned that while the initiative was a major step for Africa, it would work better if finance ministers lent their support and countries worked together.

South African Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi joined the chorus of voices calling for partnerships between ministers of finance and health.

“As it is now, it is difficult to arrange a simple meeting. Actually, it's getting harder than before (to get treasury to the table).

“If I had a chance to speak before the panel, I would have highlighted that challenge,” he said, echoing the sentiments of other delegates, who felt that governments had to eradicate the silo mentality within their ranks.

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said his government had made major strides in roping in the private sector to address healthcare challenges.

Norwegian prime minister Erna Solberg was also in attendance.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, African Development Bank, the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria, the WHO and Africa Health Business were among a host of partner organisations for the initiative.

Zimbabwean philanthropist Tsitsi Masiyiwa announced that the foundation that she headed with her Econet Wireless billionaire husband Strive would provide an additional $60million (R817m) to fund the fight against cholera in Zimbabwe. This is a major boost for a country battling to attract investment and facing worsening political and economic stability and it is news that Zimbabwe will celebrate after the AU summit ends today.

For Kagame, who handed over the chairmanship of the AU to Egypt's Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, the launch of this initiative was a perfect way to end 12 months of hard work in helping the continent to achieve its developmental goals.

Kagame said investing in healthcare had already seen “transformative effects on the people of our continent”. 

This is backed by WHO, which says 35 of the 55 AU member states had increased the percentage of their GDP invested in healthcare last year. Kagame highlighted four key areas that would make the initiative a success, among them government’s increasing investment in healthcare.

“A good indicator of this is the progress we have made towards securing the financial health of the AU, and mobilising our own resources for joint priorities such as the Peace Fund. We should be the first ones to contribute to efforts that directly benefit our people,” he said.

Kagame added that the progress tracker tool being developed would be used to monitor investments, putting the continent firmly on track for its health targets for Agenda 2063 and the sustainable development goals. The involvement of the private sector would be key, he emphasised.

The Star

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