Invest in health systems, Rwandan President Paul Kagame tells African leaders

Paul Kagame

Rwanda's President Paul Kagame. 

Photo credit: File | AFP

Building a new efficient and strong public health order, was the key message at the inaugural International Conference on Public Health in Africa (CPHIA 2021).

Speaking during the opening of the virtual event, Rwandan President Paul Kagame said the uncertainty around the Omicron variant proved the pandemic was far from over, and there was need to continue establishing the capabilities and strength of continental health agencies.

The Rwandan leader insisted on the importance of domestic financing. “We cannot continue to rely on external funding for something as important as health, and instead, we must invest much more in research,” he said.

He called for Africa to invest in its health systems, manufacturing, as well as building trust in its population. “Other than that, it is equally important to work together as a continent,” he said.

Dr Matshidiso Moeti, the director at the World Health Organisation (WHO) Africa regional office, said to create health systems that are fit, public health capacities in the region must be strengthened. She added that the global health regulator was committed to working with the African Union (AU) and Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC).

“Creating a new public health order involves investment in creating resilient health systems, not just for the pandemic, but also for the future,” she said, adding that data and information systems will be important moving forward.

Dr John Nkengasong, director at Africa CDC said for Africa to fight the next pandemic effectively. “As a continent we must be prepared to take our health destiny in our hands.”

Prof Agnes Binagwaho, the co-chair of CPHIA, stressed the need to build research centres in Africa.

While praising the response of the continent during the pandemic, she said local manufacturing of medical products was essential. “Africa should never again be relegated to the back seat as far as medical research is concerned.”

Prof Senait Fisseha, co-chair CPHIA and the director of international programmes at the Susan Thompson Buffet Foundation, said the continent’s capability in producing vaccines during the pandemic was as a result of investment and visionary leadership.

She reiterated that for the new public health order to be achieved, African countries must continue investing in their people, teaching facilities, and supporting data scientists and innovators among other health related professionals. “African countries must prioritise the poorest and the poorest, while channeling news resources into health care.”

The event that was held virtually and was opened by the AU and Africa CDC, and which is expected to run from December 14 to December 16 December 2021, will feature presentations from African heads of state and government, dignitaries and leading health experts, who will discuss how to accelerate progress against Covid-19 and chart a new path for public health on the continent.

CPHIA 2021 comes at a critical time for Africa and the world. Covid-19 has strained health systems globally, and with dangerously limited access to vaccines across Africa, it has laid bare deep inequities in access to healthcare and scientific innovations.

Less than 20 African countries met the global goal of vaccinating at least 10 percent of the adult population by September 30, 2021, while nearly 90 percent of high income-countries met the target. As of 3 December 2021, only 7 percent of the African population had been fully vaccinated, as many countries face a surge in new infections and the emergence of the new variant of concern, Omicron.