THE prevailing COVIND-19 pandemic has exacerbated existing inequalities to accessing health care services for low and middle income countries with the biggest impact being felt in African countries, the World Health Organisation (WHO) Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti has said.
By Staff Reporter
In her World Health Day 2021 address, Dr Moeti said African countries have been pushed to the back of the queue in terms of accessingCOVID–19 test kits, personal protective equipment as well as vaccines.
This World Health Day, WHO is calling on everyone to participate in building a fairer, healthier world. The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a light on inequalities between countries. Amid shortages of essential supplies, African countries have been pushed to the back of the queue in accessingCOVID-19 test kits, personal protective equipment and now vaccines.
“Of 548 million COVID-19 vaccine doses administered worldwide, only 11million or 2%, have been in Africa, whereas the continent accounts for around 17% of the global population. There are also inequities within countries. Discrimination based on gender, place of residence, income, educational level, age, ethnicity and disability intersect to disadvantage vulnerable populations,” said Dr Moeti.
She added that recent data from 17 African countries has shown that a person with secondary school education is three times as likely to have access to contraception as someone who has not attended school.
“Those in the highest economic quintile are five times more likely to deliver their babies in health facilities and have their babies vaccinated with BCG compared to those in the lowest quintile. To improve this situation, we need to act on the social and economic determinants of health, by working across sectors to improve living and working conditions, and access to education, particularly for the most marginalized groups. Communities need to be engaged as partners, through their networks and associations, to shape and drive health and development interventions.”
According to Dr Moeti, there is limited data showing who is being missed and why and this has affected efforts to overcome the existing inequities and challenges.
“To address this, national health information systems need to capture age, sex and equity stratified data. This information can then be used to inform decision–and policy–making. At WHO, we are working with countries to strengthen capacities to collect, manage and use data, and to enhance monitoring and action to address avoidable inequities.
“In the past year we have disseminated technical guidance on gender, equity and COVID–19andtrained30country teams in gender and health equity integrated programming. The teams are using skills gained to support equitable health response, including to deal with gender-based violence in the context of COVID-19,” she said.
She also said investment was needed to accelerate progress towards Universal Health Coverage, to protect individuals from financial hardship in accessing needed care and to improve service coverage.
“Most African countries have initiated reforms in these areas believing that these reforms will in turn contribute to building more resilient health systems and societies. Moving forward, leaders need to work together to address inequities in their own countries and abroad in the spirit of international solidarity.Specifically, on COVID–19 vaccines, we strongly encourage pharmaceutical companies to expand their manufacturing capacities to overcome current supply shortages.
“We also encourage wealthy countries to share their doses, so that the most–at–risk populations in all countries can be protected, to save lives and speed–up the recovery from this global crisis.This World Health Day I call on Member States, partners, civil society, communities, and other stakeholders to intensify work with WHO to achieve Universal Health Coverage, and to invest in addressing the social and economic determinants of health,to tackle inequities and build a fairer, healthier world.”