Girl with a bed net – a crucial tool to help prevent the spread of malaria. Photo credit: Morgana Wingard/ ONE.
Last week, leaders of the African Union member nations made an ambitious pledge to end the HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria epidemics in their countries by 2030.
This is a monumental goal that will take an incredible amount of global effort, planning and coordination. To help outline the work ahead, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the African Union have released a joint report, “Abuja+12: Shaping the future of health in Africa,” which makes recommendations for “[elevating] health as a force for economic growth and social progress.”
Underpinning the report’s recommendations is the fact that improved health will lead to better economies and revenue. The report specifically states that for every year of increased life expectancy in sub-Saharan Africa, the region’s gross domestic product is expected to rise about 4 percent.
So what should countries collectively do to improve their health outcomes and realize those economic benefits?
1. Improve coordination and unite African leadership. African countries should come together and improve coordination between countries, while also involving local organizations and other stakeholders in the decision-making process. In addition, countries should produce more life-saving AIDS medicines locally, instead of importing 80 percent of the medication, as they do now.
2. Generate new sources of revenue to complement prior health commitments. “The Abuja Commitment” is an agreement made by African Union member nations to allocate 15 percent of their annual national budgets toward health in an effort to strengthen national health systems. Just six countries have followed through on that commitment so far, so the report recommends that countries find new financing solutions to help other nations also meet that commitment. Potential revenue sources and solutions include improving taxation systems to eliminate loss of tax revenue – which currently costs the region about $65 billion a year – making use of natural resources and increasing the private sector’s investment in health care.
3. Make smart investments for greater health returns by making use of the newest technology and models to deliver the best care to the greatest number of people while also improving the efficiency of national health systems.
4. Strengthen Africa’s human health resources by training more health workers and by training them better. Furthermore, countries that share similar health challenges – especially those in the African Union – should participate in more knowledge sharing. Different countries have different strengths and experiences they can share with each other.
5. Leave no one behind. In designing health programs, countries are generally doing a good job of targeting majority populations, but key groups, like drug users and the LGBT population, are virtually being ignored. The report argues that all segments of the population need to be targeted to fully eradicate disease. African Union member countries have passed minority protection laws. Now, they need to enforce these laws while also implementing health programs that target vulnerable populations.
In the last decade, African Union member nations have made enormous progress in improving health in their countries, but the fight needs to be stepped up considerably if the target of eliminating HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis by 2030 is to be met.
The Abuja+12 report offers a great starting point for increasing the resources African countries dedicate to health initiatives. Incorporating these key points is essential for improving health on the continent and thereby growing the economies of sub-Saharan Africa.
The first step to scaling up the response to disease is to ensure governments are prioritizing health and doing so in an open and transparent way. If you are an African citizen, please sign our petition and ask your country’s government to keep investing in health.