By Sharon Atieno
With colonial mindset manifesting itself in how global health is practiced in the form of racism, white supremacy and saviorism, epistemic injustice, lack of diversity, equity and inclusion, privilege and inequality amongst others, there is a need for decolonization for Africa to be better prepared for the next pandemic.
This is according to Dr. Sam Oti, Member Global Health Decolonization Movement in Africa during a Media for Environment, Science, Health and Agriculture (MESHA) café in Nairobi.
“If we truly achieve some semblance of decolonizing global health, then more global health funding will go to local institutions so that they can strengthen their capacities to prepare and respond to future pandemics,” he said.
It will also help practitioners in the global south to become more empowered to design local solutions to future pandemics which are likely to be more effective versus copy-pasting as in the case of COVID-19 where African countries had to rely on what other countries were doing, Dr. Oti noted.
Decolonization, he added will enable local knowledge to be taken more seriously at the global level and given the respect and seriousness it deserves.
Besides decolonization, he said African governments still had a role to play by investing more in health care, public health surveillance, and building resilience of health systems to pandemics.
Dr. Oti called on African countries to leverage the continent’s population to accelerate preparedness for the next pandemic.
“If we had a streamlined process for Africa as a continent then it becomes more attractive for investors to invest in our public health system, manufacturing, therapeutics, and things that can help us prepare for the next pandemic,” he said, noting that the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCTA) and the partnership for African Vaccine manufacturing offer such an opportunity.
According to Prof. Walter Jaoko, Director of Kenya AIDS Vaccine Institute (KAVI), for Africa to better prepare for the next pandemic, there is a need to strengthen the African Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as well as strengthen public health institutions.
“Each country should have their own public health institute that will work very closely with the African CDC as the African CDC will provide them with guidance on priorities and programming, integrate efforts between different nations and drive standard settings and surveillance,” he said, noting that a pandemic is a disease that affects many countries and countries cannot address it in isolation as it requires coordination between them and the African CDC was better placed to do this.
Prof. Jaoko called on African governments to honor the commitment they made in the Abuja declaration to give 15% of their annual budget to health, noting that Africa needs funds to train the health workforce, purchase better equipment for the laboratories and increase medical supplies among others.
He observed that there are major gaps in the public health workforce that need to be addressed by putting more resources in the sector. For instance, despite the critical role played by epidemiologists in observing trends of diseases, Africa only has 5,000 yet it requires 25,000 of them.
Additionally, Prof. Jaoko noted that having manufacturing capacity for vaccines and therapeutics will increase the speed of responding to local threats rather than waiting for assistance from outside. This initiative, he said, is better driven by public-private partnerships.