HEALTH | DR THAKKER | AFRICA
In 2013, Africa Union launched a master plan for transforming Africa into the global powerhouse within 50 years, to end in 2063. Agenda 2063 is a strategic framework for inclusive and sustainable development, African unity and renaissance.
The planned trajectory includes health for all and informs the planned inaugural International Conference on Public Health in Africa (CPHIA 2021), scheduled for 14-16 December.
The virtual conference will be hosted by the Africa Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), African Union and organised by over 70 leading health experts, researchers, policymakers, advocates, community leaders, health workers and other stakeholders.
Catherine Namirembe talked to Dr Amit Thakker, a member of the CPHIA 2021 organizing committee, about the ambitious Agenda 2063.
This Agenda 2063 is a very ambitious plan for Africa. How did you get involved in it?
I have been in the health sector for the last 20 years, mainly in the private sector around East Africa. And, currently, I am the president of Africa Health Care Federation and so, the chair of Africa Health Business which is headquartered in Nairobi.
I am a pioneer in the integration of the private sector within African health systems. I have supported governments, corporations, and organizations to achieve advanced health outcomes.
So, what does Agenda 2063 entail in the context of public health?
Agenda 2063 is an ambitious but realistic road map which consists of 20 very specific goals, championed by African Union. It looks at Africa being a healthy and prosperous continent, which collaborates and trades very freely.
Specifically, the healthy sector is Agenda 23 goal Number 3, and number 1 talks about high standard of living, quality of life and wellbeing for all.
These are very well thought through goals and I believe that our conference will further elaborate on how Africa’s leadership and partnership and can impact the fruition of these goals.
Africa Union! For long, the world’s powers have shown they are not interested in the union of Africa! How will you handle possible resistance and possible sabotage?
First, we must first need to come together as Africa. With such a desire, it doesn’t matter if superpowers try to sabotage or derail us. We have political diplomacy to engage with these superpowers and negotiate progress.
We shall have diplomatic processes to keep our relations intact because Africa represents a very small economy on a global scale. So, our relation with those superpowers, our funders and donors is going to remain critical through Agenda 2063.
But does Africa have what it takes to achieve these Agenda 2063 goals? For example, it was launched in 2013 and now, 8 years later, we don’t feel the push towards unity. We are disunited politically, economically and socially.
We have what it takes; the last 10 years have demonstrated such togetherness on many collaborative issues never seen before. Yes, some countries are disunited, but we start with the willing as pacesetters.
The plan estimates that to get Africa’s 55 countries to agree on a common platform is going to take us close to 50 years. So, we have started somewhere, we will get a critical mass and then, others will join in later when they see success.
So, yes, Africa has what it takes: The culture, the people, the zeal of the youth, business interests etc are all favorable ingredients of making us a one.
It is a tall order. Some countries are far well off, others have different agendas; how are you selling this Agenda 2063?
It is not a tall order. In fact, there is a very positive signal for countries that you call well off.
Look at South Africa, Morocco, Egypt, Kenya; they are all very positive about Agenda 2063. They have taken the first strides of working together.
Maybe some countries will gain more than others, but united we will become. That will give us a stronger global economy footprint than we have currently.
How is the Conference on public health in Africa relevant for Agenda 2063?
It is the first public health conference on the continent. The recent Covid 19 pandemic made it clear that we need to work together.
This conference will outline the structure and strategy in the partnership that will make health systems more integrated and strong enough to handle any emergencies.
It will map out strategies to avert future pandemics and handle emergencies.
It brings all the scientists, academicians, public sector and private sector leaders on one platform.
It has very well designed tracks that cover important milestones we need to achieve in making this continent healthier and stronger than before. And the conference is not going to be a one-off; it is going to be held annually.
This will enable us monitor our progress.
Are all the countries into it? How is Uganda and her East African neighbours involved?
Yes, Uganda and her neighbours are fully involved. There are many academic and scientific scholars from Makerere University. Rwanda’s university of global health equity is also involved.
East Africa is actually very strongly involved; it is the second leading region accounting for over 25% of the registrants.
We are very delighted that the East African representation is strong. West Africa is the first one with over 7,000 registrations.
Will the conference come up with any resolutions?
I believe there will be tangible outputs from the conference. There may be some communication, policy briefs, direction briefing papers and strategic documents.
There will be useful outputs to shape policy and practice towards a healthier continent.
But Africa is not a stranger to so many very good policies and strategic briefs. It is the implementation that is lacking. How are you going to transcend that?
That has been so disappointing. But going forward, everyone wants to see results. We are interested in transforming policy into practice. We have so many knowledge brokers who are designing appropriate implementation plans.
As we integrate further, the majority of those guiding papers will see implementation much better than before. We are very pleased with the leadership that Africa CDC is providing in many countries in Africa.
I am confident that these outputs will be implemented in the most rational and strategic manner over time towards our agenda 2063 goals.
How binding will the conference positions be to African countries?
I think it is work in progress. The fact that presidents Cyril Ramaphosa, Paul Kagame and others will be part of the opening ceremony shows you the good will of countries and leaders.
We believe that the output of the conference will be taken on by many countries individually and on a cross-country collaboration. This will improve over time.
Time will come when it will be binding on countries as unification comes into existence.
Africa is varies. Our health issues are different; how relevant will the conference, and the unity motivation be?
There are many cross-cutting issues in our continent. Look at maternal health, whether it is in Uganda, Ivory coast, Botswana or South Africa; the challenges are similar.
Look at the infant mortality, the recent Covid 19 pandemic, and health financing! The strategy it to limit our continental strategy on cross cutting matters.
Then every other country can handle its unique conditions at a national level.
If you take COVID 19 pandemic, for example, you will notice that the disparity in response is very wide. How are you going to reduce these differences in performance between countries?
We should learn from each other; that is what brotherhood is about. Those who have done well will share lessons with those who still have challenges to get the curve up. That is what partnership is all about.
Have you planned for a possible fear from some counties that those who are doing better may try to dominate the poor?
In health, no one is safe until we are all safe. Kenya was doing well in vaccinations but uncomfortable that Tanzania had fewer vaccination rates.
But now, Tanzania’s progress is good news to Kenya. Kenya is even willing to share strategies, negotiations and even sources of supply.
For me it is the opposite. Stronger countries will now start sharing and building the weaker countries. And that is how we will achieve a stronger continent and a strong economy.
How do you evaluate Uganda’s commitment to public health and Agenda 2063?
Uganda is a very strong country, with good leadership especially in the area of health.
President Yoweri Museveni has given many African countries a challenge on performance. Recently, he hosted the world health summit in Kampala.
He is also advocate of integration and for Africa to produce and manage its own affairs. You have Makerere University whose scholars are strengthening the Africa health system.
Thank you so much Dr. Amiti for your time; do you have anything else to say?
I want to encourage everybody to come forward and participate at the first public health conference that we are holding from 12th to 14th December.
It is will align our road map to a stronger and healthier continent. Not only is the call out to the people in the health sector but also to the wider business community, civil society, faith-based organizations.
It is only when it is an inclusive approach that we will strengthen public health on our continent.