BOTSWANA –The World Health Organization (WHO) has convened African health ministers and government representatives for the 73rd session of the WHO Regional Committee for Africa, aimed at strategizing how to address prevailing healthcare challenges across the continent.

This year’s meeting is scheduled to occur in Gaborone, Botswana, from August 28th to September 1st. It will center on a variety of strategies to strengthen healthcare systems, improve preparedness and response to health crises, and combat issues related to nutrition, food insecurity, infectious diseases, and chronic ailments.

During the five-day conference, there will also be a retrospective analysis of the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact, examining how countries are recovering from its devastating effects on their economies, health systems, and livelihoods. The goal is to derive lessons for better future pandemic preparedness and resilience.

Approximately 800 participants, including representatives from United Nations agencies, non-governmental organizations, civil society, academia, and development partners, are attending the Gaborone meeting either in person or virtually.

Inaugurating the convention, H.E. Mokgweetsi Masisi, the President of Botswana, emphasized the multitude of challenges faced, including escalating poverty, humanitarian crises, and food insecurity, all of which exert adverse effects on well-being and health.

President Masisi stressed the urgent need for increased global collaboration and solidarity, drawing from the experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Dealing with current and emerging challenges necessitates robust collaborations and partnerships to achieve essential health and developmental objectives,” President Masisi remarked.

The meeting’s representatives also commended Botswana for its achievements in healthcare and universal health coverage, particularly the country’s commendable response to HIV/AIDS.

Notably, in 2021, WHO certified Botswana for achieving the silver tier in the elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV.

Additionally, in 2022, Botswana successfully reached the 95-95-95 targets for HIV testing, treatment, and viral suppression, a feat accomplished by only five countries.

The country has also been at the forefront of combating cervical cancer, being among the first in the region to introduce the HPV vaccine.

Ambassador Minata Samaté Cessouma, African Union Commissioner for Health, Humanitarian Affairs, and Social Development, echoed the sentiment of collaboration in her opening address.

She highlighted the essential role of cooperation between WHO and the African Union Commission Health Department in implementing health programs and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, as well as aligning with the AU’s 2063 agenda.

Building strong partnerships and collaborations for a more resilient Africa

In recent years, the WHO has been steadfast in its efforts to bolster countries’ health system resilience to achieve universal health coverage and health security.

However, challenges persist as disease outbreaks like polio, cholera, Ebola, and Marburg Virus Disease continue to emerge.

Compounding these health challenges are natural disasters linked to climate change, which exacerbate the impact of outbreaks.

Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus, the Director-General of WHO, remarked, “As you know, in May of this year, I declared an end to both Covid-19 and smallpox as public health emergencies of international concern. Although neither represents a global health emergency, both still pose a threat to health.”

Dr. Ghebreyesus stressed the urgency for Member States to take decisive action in reorienting their health systems towards primary healthcare as the foundation for achieving universal health coverage.

He also continued to urge all Member States to fortify their defenses against health emergencies.

This year’s Regional Committee meeting coincides with the 75th anniversary of WHO, marked by year-long activities aimed at celebrating health achievements and expediting efforts to confront present and future challenges.

In various aspects, the African region has achieved noteworthy progress. Swift outbreak detection has improved due to enhanced public health emergency response.

Over the past decade, new HIV infections and AIDS-related deaths in the region have decreased. The fight against neglected tropical diseases has also advanced significantly, with leprosy nearly eliminated as a public health concern.

Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, highlighted that despite the formidable global health landscape, recent strides by WHO Member States are indicative of a promising future for health in the African region.

She emphasized the commitments made by leaders to accelerate progress towards universal health coverage and health security, as well as the collaborative efforts of governments and partners in translating these commitments into tangible outcomes.

Dr. John Kaseya, the Director-General of the Africa Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, advocated for increased pandemic preparedness among countries with support from partners.

This collaboration is crucial to effectively respond to crises and safeguard both health and livelihoods. “The next pandemic is inevitable, and we must prepare as other continents are doing,” said Dr. Kaseya.

The Regional Committee serves as WHO’s decision-making body in the region, convening annually to deliberate and endorse regional policies, activities, and financial plans aimed at enhancing the health and well-being of the people in Africa.

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