African health ministers have last week adopted a new eight-year regional strategy to transform health security and emergency response within the region.

This comes after the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on fragile health systems. World Health Organisation (WHO) Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, says Covid-19 is a wake-up call for the African region to prioritise building resilient health systems capable of providing quality healthcare, while coping with public health emergencies.

"There is a growing recognition of the mounting threat public emergencies pose to global economies and societies, underlining the need for a one-health approach and investing in prevention and preparedness. By investing now we can prevent an economic and social meltdown in the future," Dr. Moeti says.

She added that the Regional Strategy for Health Security and Emergencies 2022–2030, endorsed during the 72nd session of WHO Regional Committee for Africa in Lomé, Togo, aims to reduce the health and socio-economic impacts of public health emergencies.

The new strategy includes strengthening mechanisms for partnerships and multi-sectoral collaboration, ensuring sustained and predictable investment and repurposing resources from polio eradication and COVID-19 to support strategic investments in systems and tools for public health emergencies.

Globally, the African region reports the heaviest burden of public health emergencies, with more than 100 such events occurring annually. Prior to the emergence of COVID-19, the top causes of epidemics in the region were cholera, measles, yellow fever, meningococcal meningitis, influenza and viral haemorrhagic fevers, most of which are preventable by strengthening routine immunisation.

COVID-19 has underscored the need to improve surveillance, diagnostics, treatment and a range of health services. Its knock-on effects overwhelmed health systems, interrupted essential health services and fuelled socio-economic disruption, threatening to undermine decades of hard-earned health and economic gains.

WHO estimates that up to US$4 billion is needed annually from international and domestic sources to fully fund core health security capacities in the region and better prepare for the next pandemic. It is estimated that this works out to around US$3 per person a year.

By adopting the strategy, Member States agreed to reach 12 targets by 2030 which will strengthen their capacity to prevent, prepare for, detect and respond to health emergencies, including 80 per cent of Member States having predictable and sustainable health security financing, 90 per cent mobilising an effective response to public health emergencies within 24 hours of detection and all countries having 80 per cent of health districts with

functional service delivery and quality improvement programmes.

Dr. Moeti is confident that this collaboration could help ensure that Africa is at the forefront of protecting the world against future pandemics.

“This strategy is the fruit of extensive consultations with African health ministries and a range of other institutions, technical actors and partners across the continent,” she says.

WHO has recently launched a flagship initiative to assist countries in operationalising the newly-adopted strategy and it is currently being rolled out in five early implementation countries across the region: Botswana, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria and Togo. There are plans to expand this number significantly before the end of the year and for the programmes to be scaled up regionally over the next five years.