In an increasingly interconnected world, the strength of a nation’s health security and systems holds paramount importance. Nowhere is this truer than in the diverse, young, and energetic continent of Africa, where the need to fortify health security has become a pressing imperative.
It is widely acknowledged that adequate healthcare infrastructure is the backbone of a strong health system. This includes hospitals, clinics, laboratories, supply chains, manufacturing, and data management systems.
Improving healthcare in Africa is a moral imperative and a strategic opportunity. Africa can unlock its human potential, accelerate economic growth, and contribute to global security and stability by investing in health.
Moreover, by strengthening its health systems and capacities, Africa can better prepare for and respond to future health threats, including pandemics such as Covid-19, which posed an unprecedented challenge to the continent’s healthcare system, testing its capacity, resources, and resilience.
Read: Base technology for Africa on the best science
Undoubtedly, the Covid-19 pandemic exposed the gaps and weaknesses in Africa’s health security, such as inadequate surveillance, testing, tracing, isolation, treatment, and vaccination. It also brought into focus unprecedented opportunities for change and growth.
As the continent grapples with existing health challenges and prepares for potential future crises, strengthening health security and systems has become not just an aspiration but a necessity.
Current disparities across countries include inadequate infrastructure, equipment, and supplies; shortage of skilled health workers; weak health information systems; low access and coverage; high out-of-pocket expenditures; insufficient domestic funding; weak governance and accountability; and frequent outbreaks and emergencies. These challenges hamper Africa’s ability to provide quality services to its population.
A multi-faceted approach is needed to address both immediate concerns and long-term systemic issues. For instance, domestic and international health financing is a vital pillar that catalyses infrastructure development, human resource expansion, supplies, and training. The challenge lies in aligning public and private financing for harmonisation and high impact.
Similarly, re-evaluating administrative and development finance structures, emphasising preventive and promotive care, and fostering collaborative coordination between state and non-state partners are crucial steps that should be emphasised.
One of the key areas that requires urgent attention is the development of resilient health information systems that can provide timely and accurate data for decision-making and resource allocation.
Read: GATES: Invest in Africa’s youth
With reliable data, monitoring health outcomes, tracking progress, identifying gaps, and responding to emerging threats is easier. Data also enables accountability and transparency, which are essential for building trust and confidence among stakeholders.
Another important aspect of strengthening health security and systems is promoting community engagement and empowerment.
Communities are not only beneficiaries of health services but also active agents of change who can contribute to health promotion, disease prevention, and outbreak response. Engaging communities in designing, implementing, and evaluating health interventions can enhance their ownership, participation, and satisfaction.
Moreover, empowering communities with knowledge, skills, and resources can enable them to demand and access quality services, protect their rights, and hold duty-bearers accountable.
Nevertheless, a robust health workforce becomes indispensable for effective healthcare delivery. Therefore, Africa must focus on training and retaining healthcare professionals, providing ongoing education, and creating incentives to work in underserved areas.
The growing brain-drain of skilled medical practitioners from Africa heading to other countries for greener pastures is a thorn that must be managed as it often undermines efforts by different African countries to be self-sufficient in terms of health human capital.
In a rapidly changing technological landscape, where virtually every sector relies on data, timely and accurate data is critical for making informed decisions within and outside Africa’s health systems.
Strengthening health information systems can enhance disease surveillance, resource allocation, and policy formulation. Additionally, digital health solutions can bridge geographical gaps and improve access to healthcare services, especially in remote regions.
At the same time, encouraging research and innovation within the healthcare sector can lead to disease prevention, diagnostics, and treatment breakthroughs. Collaborations between governments, academia, and the private sector can foster an environment where local solutions are developed to address Africa’s unique health challenges.
Read: WHO: Health workers’ exodus leaves Africa vulnerable
Leveraging Africa’s demographic dividend, a youthful population will drive positive change. Investing in health education, promoting healthy lifestyles, and engaging the youth in healthcare advocacy can create a generation that benefits from improved health systems and actively contributes to their betterment.
Such deliberate health programming will fast-track Africa’s dream of achieving universal health care, shifting from our idea of curative services to that of buying medicine.
Minimising deaths, mainly caused by communicable diseases, road and transport accidents, and the lack of rescue and ambulatory services, is essential, reducing out-of-pocket health financing at the family unit. Turning these progressive and sustainable ideas into reality requires commitment, collaboration, and sustained effort from governments and international organisations.
Musundi is a development communication expert based in Nairobi, Kenya.
Source: The East African