European Investment Bank Pledges €500 million to WHO-EU Partnership for Stronger African Health Systems
european investment bank
WHO DG Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and EIB President Werner Hoyer.

The European Investment Bank said Thursday that it would commit €500 million to improving African health systems, as part of a new initiative with the World Health Organization and the European Union.

The joint EIB-WHO-EU statement coincided with the start of an EU-African Union Summit, which is set to talk about how to improve health systems in Africa, as well as stepping up vaccine production.

While there have been some recent, big strides to jump-start more African vaccine manufacturing and related R&D, including in the WHO-supported South African mRNA hub and a BioNTech modular vaccine manufacturing initiative, announced only yesterday (hyperlink please to those two stories), much less attention has been focused on health systems, which are the backbone for service delivery.

And recent data suggests that African health systems, like others worldwide, continue to suffer setbacks in delivery of other routine services, due to the pandemic.

That, along with being chronically underfinanced – with most countries far from the Abuja goal of investing 15% of GDP in health services.  Only two countries – Rwanda and South Africa – had reached the 15% target in 2011, while seven had actually reduced their health budgets proportionate to their national budgets.

The situation had deteriorated further in 2016, with 19 African countries spending less on health as a percentage of their public spending than in the early 2000s. According to the 2016 WHO report, countries with high per capita income such as Algeria, Botswana, South Africa, and Seychelles, do not systematically spend more of their budgets on health, while lower income countries such as Ethiopia, Gambia, and Malawi – have in fact surpassed the 15% goal.

The new initiative aims to address both the pandemic-related and more systematic issues, said a WHO press statement on the EIB investment.

It noted that the investments would be focused on “restoring, expanding and sustaining access to essential health services and increasing financial risk protection; access to vaccines, medicines, diagnostics, devices and other health products; scaling innovative primary health care service delivery models and investing in a health workforce to deliver effective quality care.

“The shared goals of the partnership will achieved by applying a country-led and country-driven approach, identifying gaps in national health systems, designing strategies for interventions and their corresponding investments plans, investing in health system projects and programmes, convening capital providers, supporting implementation and monitoring impact,” said WHO.

EIB President Werner Hoyer, said that the goal of the initiative is to mobilize €1 billion of new investment “to strengthen public health across Africa.”

Said WHO Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus: “The COVID-19 pandemic is a powerful demonstration that when health is at risk, everything is at risk. Investing in health across Africa is therefore essential not just to promote and protect health, but also as a foundation for lifting people out of poverty and driving inclusive economic growth.”

Image Credits: EIB/Twitter.

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