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Ministers meet over health challenges as 1.4b Africans risk contracting COVID-19

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The Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO) Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (Photo by LAURENT GILLIERON / POOL / AFP)

Ministers of Health and representatives from the continent are meeting virtually between today and Thursday for the 71st Session of the World Health Organisation (WHO) Regional Committee for Africa.

A statement, yesterday, by the global agency, noted that the committee is the organisation’s decision-making body, with the gathering being the premier forum on public health and hosting 47 health ministers yearly to discuss and endorse regional policies, activities and financial plans to improve people’s health and well-being across Africa.

More than 400 delegates, including WHO Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Gebreyesus, Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, representatives of United Nations (UN) agencies, funds and programmes, civil society, bilateral and multilateral organisations and other development partners are also participating.

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Among the issues to be discussed are: scaling up of COVID-19 response, accelerating elimination of cervical cancer, improving access to assistive health technologies and boosting uptake of digital health.

Others are reinforcement of an integrated response to tuberculosis, Human Immuno-deficiency Virus (HIV), sexually transmitted infections and hepatitis, as well as defeating meningitis by 2030 and enthroning sustainable financing of the global health agency

There will also be a special session on polio outbreak response and transition.

According to the organisation, while there is significant progress in the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in health and health-related fields, majority of the countries in the region deploy digital health solutions in pilot mode.

Owing to identifiable lapses like limited digital health leadership capacity at national level and others, WHO adopted a global digital health strategy in 2020 to advance and apply digital health technologies for better health outcomes.

The committee would, therefore, discuss and adopt the framework for effective implementation across nations.

The group added that the special event on COVID-19 would focus on the current state and include a status report on vaccine rollout and uptake.

The ministers are equally brainstorming on post-pandemic recovery plans.

WHO said over 200 million people in sub-Saharan Africa needed at least one assistive technology product, with the figure projected to double by 2050. Currently, only about 15 to 25 per cent of the people in need have access to them.

RELATEDLY, a new study, yesterday, raised the alarm that 1.4 billion persons on the continent were at the risk of contracting the novel coronavirus due to lack of the most basic public health tools, including soap and water, for safeguarding.

According to the findings published in the peer-reviewed journal Epidemiology & Infection, these measures known as non-pharmacological public health interventions (NPIs) together with physical distancing are among the simplest and least expensive methods to slow the spread of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus Type 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the bug that causes COVID-19.

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The researchers regretted that such a huge number lacked these tools.

An American professor of epidemiology and medicine, Timothy Brewer, said: “Hundreds of millions of people across Africa simply lack means for implementing NPIs to prevent SARS-CoV-2 transmission. These populations urgently need to be prioritised for vaccination to prevent disease and contain the global pandemic.”

The findings titled, “Housing, sanitation and living conditions affecting SARS-CoV-2 prevention interventions in 54 African countries,” were product of an international team, led by Brewer and other researchers from China, Ethiopia, Mexico, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom and the United States.

The virus has infected 7.3 million and killed 185,505 across Africa. Globally, nearly 210 million cases and 4.4 million deaths have been reported in more than 200 nations.

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