US Summit Boosts Africa’s Health Sector, Food Resilience and Climate Response
US President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken participate in the US-Africa Summit in Washington DC.

The US-Africa Leaders’ Summit ended last week with a strong commitment to strengthen Africa’s health systems, tackle food insecurity and climate change.

Meanwhile, top African health officials and scientists meeting at a public health conference in Kigali, Rwanda, at the same time as the summit, vowed to bolster inter-country collaboration to build healthier nations post-COVID.

A vision statement from US President Joe Biden, Senegal’s President, Macky Sall, who chairs the African Union (AU), and AU Commission Chair Moussa Faki Mahamat, affirmed their “shared commitment to prevent, detect, and respond to infectious disease threats.  

“As part of this effort, we will expand our support to strengthen the region’s health workforce, regional manufacturing capacity, and health infrastructure.  We have deepened the partnership between the United States and Africa CDC to achieve our shared global health goals,” according to the statement.

Russia’s war in Ukraine has underscored how the US has lost influence in Africa, with many countries now politically and economically indebted to China and Russia, and the summit was cast as Biden’s attempt to woo African leaders sidelined by his predecessor, Donald Trump.

At the summit, the Biden-Harris Administration announced plans to invest at least $55 billion in Africa over the next three years, and Ambassador Johnnie Carson has been appointed to a newly created position as Special Presidential Representative for US-Africa Leaders Summit Implementation to coordinate these efforts. 

Carson is a former Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs and has been Ambassador to Kenya, Uganda, and Zimbabwe. 

Stronger workforce and systems

The health components of this plan include support to improve Africa’s workforce, health systems and regional manufacturing.

Through the Global Health Worker Initiative, the US plans to invest $1.33 billion annually from 2022 to 2024 in the health workforce to help “close the gap in health workers, including clinicians, community health and care workers, and public health professionals”.  

Specific plans include training at US universities and research collaborations.

Building on its COVID-19 response, the US has also committed to continuing to build resilient health systems in critical technical areas to strengthen global health security.

The US also reiterated its support to accelerate regional manufacturing for vaccines, tests, and therapeutics, working partly through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and the President’s Malaria Initiative. By 2025, PEPFAR wants to procure 15 million HIV tests produced by African manufacturers and to shift at least two million patients on HIV treatments to use African-made products by 2030.

Secretary of State Antony J Blinken

Climate change and food security

Biden reiterated the US support for climate adaptation and resilience announced at COP27 in Egypt, which involves providing over $150 million in new funding to address climate adaptation in Africa under the President’s Emergency Plan for Adaptation and Resilience (PREPARE), supporting “early warning systems, adaptation finance, climate risk insurance, and climate-resilient food systems”. 

The US will also galvanise global public and private investment in African clean energy infrastructure.

The US government and AU also announced new measures to build resilient food systems and diversified supply chain markets to prevent food shocks before they happen.

“The compounding impacts of the global pandemic, the growing pressures of the deepening climate crisis, high energy and fertiliser costs, and protracted conflicts – including Russia’s war in Ukraine – have pushed weak supply chains to the brink and dramatically increased malnutrition and food insecurity — particularly for African countries,” according to the two parties.  

They announced “a new strategic partnership” to deepen their collaboration to increase food production capacity and diversify and strengthen the resilience of food supply chains. 

At the summit, the US foreign assistance agency, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, signed agreements with Benin and Niger to reduce transport costs and lower trade barriers from the Port of Cotonou to Niger’s capital city of Niamey to enhance rural communities’ access to markets to strengthen food supply chains and adapt to climate change.

A similar compact has been signed with Malawi.

In light of the dire drought in the Horn of Africa, Biden also announced $2 billion in new emergency humanitarian assistance. Meanwhile, USAID is also rapidly scaling up food security assistance in Somalia, aimed in the longer run at expanding smallholder farmers’ “access to high quality, climate-smart inputs, and investing in the fisheries sector to diversify local livelihoods,” according to the US.

Opportunities to grow

Michel Sidibe

Meanwhile, at the closing plenary of the Conference on Public Health in Africa (CPHIA) in Kigali, the AU’s Special Envoy Michel Sidibe summarised the key messages, including that Africa must operationalise African Medicines Agency, build African health institutions and platforms,  boost local manufacturing of vaccines and invest in science and building a sustainable R&D ecosystem.

In summarising the plenary sessions, secretariat member Shingai Machingaidze, said that Africa has seen many outbreaks of “high consequence infectious diseases like COVID-19, monkey pox and Ebola, and we were reminded that clinical diagnosis and laboratory confirmation remain major challenges”. 

“While 93% of African countries have a strategy or policy to expand universal health coverage, implementation varies, and the challenges include weak governance, out-of-pocket payments, and over-reliance on donors,” said Machingaidze, who is Africa CDC’s senior science officer.

Shingai Machingaidze

“We were also reminded that Africa manufactures less than 1% of all vaccines manufactured on the continent, and growing Africa’s capacity to manufacture medical tools depends on government commitment and funding, strong public health and regulatory agencies, public-private cross-border partnerships, and owning the patents and licencing,” she added.

Meanwhile, Dr Ahmed Ogwell Ouma, acting director of Africa CDC, urged the delegates to turn lessons and experiences learnt during the COVID-19 pandemic into “opportunities to grow our capacities for prevention and response and strengthen our health systems”.

The conference brought together more than 2500 in-person delegates from 90 countries.

Dr Ahmed Ogwell Ouma, acting director of Africa CDC

Image Credits: Ron Przysucha/ US State Department , Freddie Everett/ US State Department.

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