The first international Conference on Public Health in Africa (CPHIA 2021), hosted by the African Union (AU) and Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) in December concluded its main programme following three days of sessions focused on the need to address long-standing health challenges on the continent, including vaccine inequity and weak health systems.
Over 140 African policymakers, scientists, public health experts, data experts, and civil society representatives presented the latest learnings and research from the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the actions needed to better guard against current and future health crises.
During the opening ceremony, speakers reflected on the impact of COVID-19 in Africa over the past two years and lessons learnt.
“The inaugural Conference on Public Health in Africa is happening at an important time in history,” said Chairperson of the AU Commission H.E. Moussa Faki Mahamat. “The African continent has not been spared the devastating effects of COVID-19, pushing our health systems to the limits. But we have great hopes for the future, and a historic opportunity to build a New Public Health Order that can effectively guard against future health crises. This conference is the first step in making this a reality.
”The AU’s New Public Health Order calls for continental collaboration to bolster African manufacturing capacity for vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics; strengthen public health institutions for people-centred care; expand the public health workforce; establish respectful, action-oriented partnerships; and engage with the private sector. These pillars are part of the continent’s approach to meeting the aspirations of the Agenda 2063 – the Africa We Want.
“There is a need for renewed commitments by governments and national parliaments to increase domestic financing for health in Africa. This has been a priority of the African Union for several years, but progress has not been fast enough. We cannot continue to rely on external funding for something so important to our future,” said H.E. Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda and AU Champion for Domestic Health Financing. “We need to invest much more in national health systems. The ability to implement critical health programmes, including regular mass vaccination campaigns depends on the quality of national health services and the trust the public have in them.”
“Maybe the Ebola outbreak of 2014 to 2016 was a call to action that something bigger was to come. And maybe COVID-19 is the signal that something even bigger will come. So, we must be prepared and take our health security destiny into our own hands,” said Dr. John Nkengasong, Director of the Africa CDC. “It
means we have to fight the next pandemic in a way that is unparalleled to the way we are fighting this pandemic, and I am very convinced that we will do that given the mobilization, commitment and investments that are currently going on.”
Prof. Salim Abdool Karim, Director of the Center for the AIDS Program of Research in South Africa (CAPRISA), who is among those leading research into the Omicron variant. Explaining the variant’s trajectory in South Africa, emphasized the need to continue trusting and implementing strong public health interventions.
“There is no need to panic. We’ve dealt with variants before, including those with immune escape. Closing borders has almost no benefit. Public health systems work, public interventions like masks and social distancing work. Let’s use them,” said Prof. Karim.