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Let’s work together to invest in Africa’s health

by Uhuru Kenyatta, President of Kenya
Thursday, 15 September 2016 08:18 GMT

A woman holds her baby daughter as she is given an injection as part of a malaria vaccine trial in the Kenya coastal town of Kilifi, November 23, 2010. REUTERS/Joseph Okanga

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

At the turn of the millennium, Africa was hurtling down an incline towards a precipice. The 1990s had been labelled Africa’s “lost decade,” and for good reason. Besides declining economic growth, diseases were on the upswing. HIV, tuberculosis and malaria – some of the most devastating diseases facing our people – were killing millions every year on my continent.

In the 1990s, some epidemiologists estimated that more than 60 percent of hospital beds in many African countries were full of people suffering from AIDS-related illnesses. We were losing so many productive people that, in the worst-hit countries, we were recording a slowdown of about 0.6 percent of per capita growth per year.

It was easy to lose faith in Africa those days. A leading international publication declared it “the hopeless continent.” However, our leaders, shouldering the heavy responsibility of saving the people, had a clear vision of what Africa needed. They made policies that created jobs and sent people back to work. They boosted agriculture, widened highways and fired up factories.

To support those sectors, Africa also needed to save the people who were dying and to keep them healthy. We needed to fight diseases. We were fortunate to have global health partners who stood with us in that time of need.

Together with these partners, we have made tremendous gains against major diseases. AIDS, which was virtually a death sentence in those days, has been in decline. For instance, in the last decade, HIV related deaths in Africa have halved – from 1.5 million in 2004 to 790,000 in 2014.  Malaria has also recorded a similar decline: Between 2000 and 2013, deaths due to the disease in Africa decreased by an estimated 54 percent.

We have achieved this progress by creating great partnerships with bilateral and multilateral partners such as the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Our international partners have done tremendously well in walking shoulder to shoulder with us on this journey. Together, we have saved many lives.

For instance, the Global Fund announced earlier this month that its partnership with countries has saved more than 20 million lives since 2002. In my country, Kenya, our partnership with the Global Fund has saved more than 300,000 lives. Together, we have achieved a lot in forcing these diseases into retreat. Were it not for such partnerships, the diseases would have continued to ravage millions of our people.

We have come a long way, and we can go much further. For instance, a number of countries in the southern African region are at an advanced stage of elimination of local transmission of malaria. In the fight against HIV in Kenya, we have put more than 800,000 people on HIV treatment, which has brought down the number of AIDS-related deaths by 58 percent – from 85,000 in 2009 to 35,000 in 2015.

We are at a point where we can defeat these diseases and end them as public health threats. To achieve that, we must invest more. We must commit ourselves more. On 16 September, I am joining other partners in Montreal, Canada, for the Global Fund’s Fifth Replenishment to raise resources for the next push against these diseases. It is an honor to be there under the invitation of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who is hosting the Global Fund Replenishment. Our contribution to this cause will be a true gift to people across the world, especially Africa.

In the spirit of shared responsibility and global solidarity, African countries can commit to play a bigger role by investing more in their health through the Global Fund. Healthier people will mean a more productive populace, which can continue to bolster our economies.  A 2013 Lancet Commission on Investing in Health called returns on investing in health impressive. For instance, reductions in death account for about 11 percent of recent economic growth in low-income and middle-income countries as measured in their national income accounts. That impact is evident on our continent. Today, many of the fastest growing economies in the world are in Africa.

Now, more than ever before, it is clear that we can defeat these diseases and save millions of lives of our people as well as transform our countries for good. However, if we take our foot off the pedal, these diseases can roar back. This is why we, as African countries, have a key role to play in co-investing in health with our partners.

Kenya is pledging US$5 million to the Global Fund for the coming three-year funding cycle. We all must come together and contribute to create enough impetus against HIV, tuberculosis and malaria and other health concerns that continue to devastate our people.

The Global Fund is an example of great partnerships for development that we can form in every sector as we seek to build stronger societies. These types of partnerships recognize that world problems are shared. They re-emphasize that the world must learn to build bridges and look outward rather than inwards.

Above all, they provide avenues for low- and middle-income economies to play a prominent role in their own destinies. It is the way to create a transformative impact on people and to reinvigorate our communities and economies. That publication that had once labelled Africa “a hopeless continent” ran a cover story titled “Africa Rising” 11 years later, in 2011. They are right. Africa has risen! Our partnership in the fight against diseases has been fundamental to that upsurge.

Uhuru Kenyatta is the President of Kenya.


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