At Last, Africa Faces Disease Head-On: The July AU Summit in Maputo, Mozambique, Marked a Significant Change of Priorities for Africa by Putting the Long Neglected Issue of Health at the Top of the Agenda. A Unique International Video-Conferencing System Brought a Host of Stakeholders Worldwide Together in the First Major Attempt by Africa to Step Up the War against Disease
Dalby, Alexa, African Business
The African Union's second Summit, held in Maputo, Mozambique in July was remarkable for at least two reasons: One was the priority given to the perennial battle against Africa's killer diseases, Aids, Malaria and tuberculosis (TB) and second for the introduction of satellite-linked video-conferencing.
The unique technological initiative linked Mozambique to the rest of the world for the Summit's Forum on Health and Development--specifically, Aids, malaria and TB. It was the first ever open public forum with African Heads of State, or for that matter with heads of state anywhere.
Satellites, TV, radio and Internet streaming linked 22 African countries with video-conference sites in Geneva, Dublin, London, New York and Washington DC, Maputo, Durban and Nairobi in a two-hour video-conference of African leaders, world experts, heads of UN agencies and major funding agencies. It could be viewed live on the Internet by anyone logged on to a computer and a recording can be seen at www.ihn.info.
The inclusion of the Forum in the AU Summit's agenda is clear proof that the status of health in development has now been raised to an unprecedented pan-African level. The result was the signing of a declaration to scale up action against Aids, malaria and TB in Africa.
The groundbreaking event for African leaders and their international partners was led by the AU's new Chairman, President Joachim Chissano of Mozambique and moderated by Graca Machel. It broke with AU tradition as for the first time, African Heads of State, including Olusegun Obasan jo of Nigeria, Senegal's Abdoulaye Wade, Chad's Idriss Deby and Uganda's Yoweri Museveni interacted directly with stakeholders internationally. It marked an historic occasion in the battle against the catastrophic impact of disease on Africa.
Aids, malaria and TB represent Africa's biggest health problem. The World Health Organisation (WHO) reports that 81% of the world's Aids and malaria-related deaths occur in Africa. The number of tuberculosis cases reported every year is also high--in 1988, 121 cases per 100,000 people were reported in sub-Saharan Africa, the highest incidence among all regions. Aids is the biggest killer overall of young people and women while Malaria is the highest cause of death in infants and young children.
MORE THAN JUST A HEALTH ISSUE
For those who govern Africa, these diseases are no longer just a health issue. Now African leaders openly acknowledge the pandemic is putting Africa's economies into reverse and affecting all aspects of society on the continent. The social and economic consequences are enormous. They threaten to undermine national security, hinder saving and investment and overwhelm health services.
This undermines countries' productive capacity, increasing social distress and perpetuating poverty. Their impact is also felt at the macroeconomic level. It is estimated that Aids reduces GDP growth in Africa by 0.5% to 2.6% a year on average. Other estimates suggest that Africa's GDP would be as much as $100,000bn greater if malaria had been eliminated.
The Health Conference had two sessions, Challenges and Opportunities, including contributions from Mozambican Prime Minister Pascoal Mocumbi, as well as Ebrahim Samba from the World Health Organization, Peter Piot, from UNAIDS and Fatoumata Nafo-Traore from Roll Back Malaria.
The second focused on 'Resources and Priorities' and saw representatives of major funding agencies such as the World Bank, Gates Foundation, US government, DIFID and the Global Fund participating and speaking of their commitments for Africa over the next five years. One Head of State from each region of Africa described the priorities for resource allocation in their region.
In a memorable speech, Professor Jeffrey Sachs from Columbia University, linked in from Dublin, stressed the need for Africa to demand the necessary resources, from the international community, especially the US, since a lot of money is available. …