Delegates want the continent to be better prepared for the next pandemic — following Africa’s poor response to COVID-19.
Speaking at the start of the five-day meeting Monday, Jean Kaseya, head of Africa’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said it is important for the continent to be pandemic-ready, after being found wanting during COVID-19.
“The next pandemic is coming," Kaseya said. "This next pandemic we need to be prepared like other continents are preparing themselves. We need to see how Africa can be more independent by manufacturing their own vaccines. The second one is how we can provide funding for our pandemic preparedness, prevention and response.”
Africa faced challenges inoculating its population due to the difficulty in buying adequate amounts of the vaccine. Fewer than 10 percent of Africans are vaccinated.
Additionally, WHO Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus says climate change is compounding Africa’s health challenges.
“The climate crisis is a health crisis, which is why I encourage member states to participate actively at COP28 in the United Arab Emirates, which will feature a day dedicated to health for the first time," Tedros said. "Health systems are increasingly dealing with the consequence of climate change in terms of communicable and non-communicable diseases and the impacts of more frequent and more severe, extreme weather.”
COP28 is the United Nations’ climate change conference, taking place later this year in Dubai.
Botswana’s President Mokgweetsi Masisi says COVID-19 exposed inequalities in tackling a pandemic, which he adds, must be avoided in future.
“The inequities in access to vaccines, PPE and medicines during the COVID-19 pandemic will probably remain one of the major failures of the international community in the 21st century... Diseases have no borders, pandemics are global and therefore, the risks to one country invariably affect another," Masisi said.
While rich countries used their financial power to purchase COVID vaccines, distribution in Africa was erratic.
WHO’s regional director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, says the continent emerged from the pandemic with important lessons learned.
“Although we are living in a challenging global context of health, recent advancements in our member states demonstrate that the future of health in the Africa region is hopeful," Moeti said. "African leaders are more directly taking charge of continental institutions and are taking action. The future is hopeful because you are using important lessons from the pandemic to enhance our preparedness and response to health emergencies.”
The meeting is also expected to discuss ways to transform health care in Africa, including developing telemedicine strategies.