The Path to Longer and Healthier Lives for all Africans
Closing the health gap in Africa within a generation is achievable if opportunities afforded by a rapidly growing workforce are seized according to a new report published by The Lancet Commission on the future of health in Sub-Saharan Africa.
The report was authored by more than 20 health leaders, mainly from across Africa, including policy makers, academics, clinicians and entrepreneurs, and was launched at the African Population and Health Research Centre (APHRC) in Nairobi (Kenya) on 14th September.
According to Professor Nelson Sewankambo of Makerere University College of Health Sciences (Uganda), “The spirit of this Commission is one of evidence-based optimism, with caution. We recognize that major health inequities exist and that health outcomes are worst in fragile countries, rural areas, urban slums, and conflict zones, and among poor, disabled, and marginalized people. But the evidence shows us that there is a clear opportunity for Africa to improve health on its own terms, and largely with its own resources.”
Africa has opportunities that can only be unlocked if the stakeholders worked together towards a common goal. Opportunities ahead cannot be unlocked by keeping the same pace and using more of the same approach to health systems. We need to pay as much attention to preventing ill-health and keeping people healthy as we do to treating them when they are sick, says co-author Dr Nduku Kilonzo, Chief Executive Officer, National AIDS Control Council in Kenya.
The youth population under 25 is projected to nearly double from 230 million to 450 million by 2050, bringing with it a new set of opportunities, as well as challenges. Improved nutrition, education and opportunities to remain in work on the continent will be key to ensuring their success. Enhanced support for education (including higher education) and research in all Sub-Saharan African countries will also be critically important. Africa’s young people will be key to bringing about the changes needed to accelerate efforts to improve health across sub-Saharan Africa, adds co-author Professor Alex Ezeh, Executive Director, APHRC (Kenya).
New projections produced for the Commission suggest that child and maternal mortality will continue to decline, and despite variations between regions, the projection for child mortality in Southern Africa is expected to almost meet the Sustainable Development Goal target. A number of successes, including longer life expectancy, falls in maternal and child mortality, successful roll-out of life-saving vaccines, greater control of HIV and malaria epidemics, and the near eradication of polio and guinea worm suggest that major milestones in health are within reach.
Despite this, challenges remain as the region faces a growing burden of non-communicable diseases, with increasing rates of smoking, mental health problems, obesity, and diabetes. The current shortfall of health care workers will be exacerbated and insufficient financial protection means out-of-pocket payments for health remain high. Any decrease in international or national funding will result in a serious deterioration in the health status of many of the poorest populations.