At a meeting in Dakar, Senegal, Africa’s health experts on Saturday discuss health financing and social protection.
The discussion is aimed at how to ensure universal access to health in Africa amid worries that commitments by most governments and stakeholders on this issue were not being translated into action on the ground.
Speaking at the joint Economic Commission for Africa-World Health Organization event on health financing in Africa, the ECA’s Social Development Policy Division Director, Takyiwaa Manuh, said though African governments committed through the Abuja Declaration of 2001 and more recently the Tunis Declaration and others to put more money into health, many such commitments remain untranslated into concrete actions for reasons that range from inadequate resources to weak administrative and institutional mechanisms.
“In recent years, investment in health has been getting a raw deal in comparison to other sectors in the economy,” said Ms. Manuh, who spoke on behalf of ECA’s Deputy Executive Secretary Giovanne Biha.
“Member states are on average still far from meeting key health financial financing goals of allocating 15 percent of their national budgets towards health.”
By 2015, only Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Rwanda, Togo and Zambia had met the Abuja Declaration target.
Ms. Manu highlighted a number of innovative options she said could be explored by the continent to finance health in Africa.
First, she said, domestic resource mobilization for health financing was one of the most viable options, especially through strong institutions that collect and manage tax revenues.
Secondly, Ms. Manuh added, Africa should use economic rents from its rich natural resource endowments to finance its social development, including health, in a more transparent and sustainable manner, adding it was also important for the continent to harness remittances from the Diaspora into the health sector.
She said the introduction of health insurance and social insurance schemes and ensuring effective and efficient use of both public and private resources for the health sector was of paramount importance to the continent.
“Sustainable health financing will only be realized if there’s political will from all stakeholders to translate words into action,” said Ms. Manuh, adding the ECA remains committed to undertake evidence-based research to generate robust recommendations to support policy formulation and implementation by member states on health financing.
“We are all accountable to our citizens and our citizens expect more from us so it cannot be business as usual. In this context, high-quality, timely and reliable data becomes extremely important to inform policy intervention in Africa.”
WHO Afro Regional Director, Matshidiso Moeti, said all efforts have to be taken to ensure health financing works for Africa.
“It is important for us to put more resources into the health sector because it is good for economic development and economic development is what we all want for the African continent and we feel that the health sector has more to contribute towards human capital which is so essential for countries to be successful in that regard,” said Ms. Moeti.
She said it has been a long time now since experts have been pleading with political leaders that people should not be dying needlessly due to preventable diseases and that health was a human right.
“Investing in health is a smart investment, we could save almost half of our GDP in future if we invest in health and if we look at how much we should invest it would be far less than what we will save in future or the trillions we will lose if we do not invest in health,” said Ms. Moeti.
She said Africans should also demand that their governments invest in health care.
Senegal’s Budget Minister, Birima Mangara, said his country was doing all it can to ensure it achieved universal health access, adding since 2012 the government has been putting more resources into health to avoid unnecessary loss of lives.
Senegal’s health minister Amarie Coll Seck gave an impassioned plea to health ministers and experts present, calling on the continent to have a holistic and sustainable human development approach ensuring greater budgetary allocations go to health.
“Our investments into the health sector have to be long term and critically there has to be accountability, leadership and governance because they are critical is we are to achieve universal access,” said Ms. Coll Seck.
A technical report prepared by the ECA and the WHO was presented to the meeting with panel discussions delving into issues related to financing for health systems and programmes, epidemiology and the economic burden of disease in Africa and related issues.
The experts are expected to come up with recommendations of key actions related to health financing for ministers of finance in Africa.