By Mary Hearty

Many African countries continue to feel the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, which not only exerted enormous pressure on health systems but also sounded the alarm on the need to reform and revitalize the continent’s health system.

In response to this gap, Dr. Ahmed Ogwell Ouma, the acting Director of Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) has noted that it is time African countries take ownership and responsibility to collectively invest in stronger health system governance, including multi-sectoral collaboration within countries.

Speaking during the 2nd International Conference on Public Health in Africa (CPHIA 2022), held in Kigali, Rwanda, Dr. Ouma said this should be the new way of doing things on the continent in order to achieve the health security agenda.

“Our vision of that different way of doing things is the ‘New Public Health Order’. A vision that takes Africa from always following others to one that is confident in its own skin. A continent that sets its own agenda, develops its internal capacity, establishes its own priorities, seeks indigenous solutions and uses domestic resources to initiate action,” he explained.

Dr Matshidiso Moeti, World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director for Africa also acknowledged the importance of investing in public health and stronger health systems to prepare for and respond to emergencies while maintaining essential health services, noting that strong country level awareness and preparedness yields good results.

“National responses were the most effective, where decision making authority was clear, there was capacity to coordinate efforts across actors, including community leaders and levels of government and formal advisory structures were able to provide timely scientific advice that was hidden,” she explained.

Dr. Moeti noted that Africa CDC’s effort in supporting the continent implement new ways of doing things has yielded the first African-owned COVID-19 vaccine produced by Afrigen Biologics in South Africa. Moreover, proposals for establishing the African Centres of Excellence for Genomic Sciences are underway.

“African scientists are generating new knowledge, and national investment in their efforts together with international support is critical. Our actions now and in the future require accurate and real-time data to detect, inform and promptly respond to public health threats,” she stated.

She also mentioned that increased investment in building effective systems using a primary healthcare approach is pivotal to equitable and sustainable access to essential services without financial difficulties and safeguarding communities from future threats.

“The primary healthcare level is the first contact of the healthcare system of over 80% of our population and provides direct contact to communities,” Dr. Moeti said.

With the African CDC supporting countries to achieve this ambition which is already advanced in 16 countries, Dr. Moeti said the partnership with the private sector remains crucial.

The conference, taking place from 13-15 December, is now in its second edition and aims to build on conversations started at CPHIA 2021, helping to serve as a catalyst for accelerating progress against the continent’s most significant health challenges and building a more resilient health system.

It brings essential conversations about Africa to Africa – conversations on topics like pandemic preparedness, increasing local vaccine production, tackling infectious and non-communicable diseases, and African leadership in health.