Experts in the health industry have called for more robust health systems and accelerated investment in the sector to handle future pandemics better.
Amref Health Africa Group CEO, Dr Githinji Gitahi says strong disease surveillance systems and building capacity of vaccine manufacturers are crucial to hasten the development and equitable delivery of safe and effective vaccines, treatments, and diagnostics in the event of a future pandemic.
Speaking at a Media Roundtable on Pandemic Preparedness and Health System Strengthening in Nairobi on Friday, Dr Gitahi said: “This might not be the last pandemic which is why we need proactive actions both at the local and continental level to not only save lives but also protect the economy and livelihoods.”
In its Strategic Preparedness, Readiness and Response plan 2022, the World Health Organization has warned that without swift and coordinated action to strengthen the global architecture for pandemic preparedness and response, backed by the necessary financing, the costs of the next pandemic are likely to exceed those of COVID-19.
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted many emergency health challenges across the globe and has shown that global health security is built on robust, local health security foundations.
“Africa continues to shoulder the largest burden of endemic diseases in the world. This brings to focus the importance of conversations on the urgent need to address chronic under-investment abound in Africa’s health, to unmask the deeper challenges facing the continent’s health systems – and use this opportunity to call for greater investment in health by African governments,” Dr Gitahi stated.
The recent vaccination challenges have also raised additional concerns and opportunities in Africa’s pharmaceutical sector with the continent still struggling to expand rollout, with only 17 per cent of the population fully vaccinated.
Dr Gitahi emphasized the need to be vigilant not to lose on the gains made since 2020 in surveillance and public health response capacity for COVID-19, including new technological advancements in diagnostics and genomic surveillance and the strengthening of established networks and partnerships, as authorities reallocate public health resources to other pressing needs.
Kenya Healthcare Federation (KHF) CEO Dr Anastasia Nyalita echoed Dr Gitahi’s sentiments encouraging more stakeholders to invest in scaling up Africa’s pharmaceutical capacity to provide sustainable access to quality medical products and support the continent’s long-term development goals under the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.
“This collaborative approach could become a rewarding investment for companies, governments, and funders since Africa’s demand for vaccines already makes up about a quarter of global vaccine volume and is expected to increase with the region’s estimated 2.5 per cent annual population growth,” Dr Nyalita stated.
She lauded the agreement between Kenya and Moderna early this year which will see the setup of a $500 million vaccine manufacturing plant.
The World Health Organization notes that the unprecedented acceleration of research and development seen during the COVID-19 pandemic must be sustained not only for more effective medical countermeasures for COVID-19 but also to address the social determinants of health during high-impact public health events.