Columnists

Pillars Africa needs to firm up corona response efficiency

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Community Health Volunteers are briefed on how to educate villagers about Covid-19 at Garbatulla Sub-County Hospital in Isiolo County . PHOTO | WAWERU WAIRIMU

Summary

  • There is a need to double efforts towards stemming the spread of the coronavirus, from personal responsibility and fiscal accountability to intentional deepening of partnerships for efficiencies.

The world is in a health crisis of unprecedented proportions. Nearly a year after the first Covid-19 case was made public, there were more than 54 million confirmed cases around the world and more than 1.3 million reported deaths attributed to the pandemic – the worst in recent history.

The pandemic has exposed health systems’ weaknesses and gaps, which are buckling under the weight of poor health worker to patient ratios and inadequate financial resources, medical equipment, supplies and infrastructure.

While Africa’s population has been spared much of the health impact of the pandemic, containment measures have caused significant damage to our social and economic structures.

Unfortunately, media reports highlight widespread misappropriation of funds in several African countries.

There is no silver bullet relief from the effects of the pandemic, but there are steps that governments and other stakeholders can — and should — take to improve efficiencies in their responses to the pandemic and future public health emergencies.

The first step is to strengthen community health systems, which are key to preventing and controlling public health emergencies.

Community health volunteers play a critical role as peer educators, leaders and mobilisers, and possess a deep understanding of the health-related ethnographic challenges that communities face.

These often-ignored health workers are the best medium for health-related risk communication, and can be deployed to counter misinformation while at the same time offering disease surveillance and primary health care at the grassroots.

In engaging this cadre of health workers governments should look at how to improve efficiencies through health technology. Platforms such as the WHO Academy app and Amref Health Africa’s Leap are in use to deliver life-saving skills to health workers, saving thousands of dollars that would otherwise be spent on face-to-face training.

Another opportunity to tighten efficiencies lies in deepening collaboration and embracing pooled purchasing. In June this year the AU launched the Africa Medical Supplies platform to address supply shortages, reduce logistical delays, guarantee price competitiveness and transparency and simplify payment processes for African governments that are grappling with crippling shortages of Covid-19 supplies.

Integrating Covid-19 response into existing health programmes such as HIV, TB and malaria is another opportunity to achieve efficiencies in pandemic response.

Governments can lean on institutional knowledge. This is exemplified by Liberia, which used its lessons from battling Ebola to strengthen Covid-19 response.

A walk in Nairobi streets shows that simple preventive measures such as social distancing and proper wearing of masks are widely ignored.

There is a need to double efforts towards stemming the spread of the coronavirus, from personal responsibility and fiscal accountability to intentional deepening of partnerships for efficiencies.

The writers are Covid response coordinators under public health emergency response programme at Amref Health Africa.