Despite significant improvements in health outcomes in recent years and hard-won knowledge gleaned from battling other diseases, the unprecedented scale of the COVID crisis in Africa compounded problems facing already overstretched health systems.
The pandemic unveiled the vulnerability of Africa’s fragile healthcare systems, with a major challenge being the continent’s almost total reliance on other countries for the supply of its medical products and technologies.
Efforts to mitigate the impact of the pandemic severely affected the delivery of essential health services, including routine immunisations, diagnostics, and treatments, leading to a resurgence of preventable diseases and negative health outcomes.
However, measured against the gloomy pre-COVID-19 predictions, Africa has fared far better than expected in managing the pandemic through the collaborative efforts of governments, international and multilateral organizations, and private sector engagement.
On May 5, 2023, more than three years after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC), the status was lifted.
Hence, as the world slowly moves from the COVID-19 pandemic into a post-pandemic era, Africa must take stock of the damage the crisis has caused and heed the warnings of early indicators.
African governments need to have strategic post-pandemic health plans that protect essential health services, safeguard them against future public health emergencies, and build public health systems back better. Governments must utilise the momentum of the COVID-19 crisis and the resources mobilised to fight it to bolster public health systems for the long run.
Strategies to build back better in the post-pandemic era It is evident that for Africa to be better prepared to respond to future pandemics, there is an urgent need to improve the resiliency of health systems overall.
With stronger health systems, governments will not have to choose between protecting the people from one health crisis or another. Thus, learning lessons from the pandemic, a renewed pursuit for self-reliant health systems has led to stronger efforts by African governments and international development partners to build capacity in Africa’s public health sector.
In view of these, Bloom Public Health, an indigenous public health think-tank company, proposes the following strategies to complement existing efforts by African governments and build back better in the post-pandemic era: 1. Building local pharmaceutical manufacturing capacity: Strengthening local manufacturing capacity in Africa’s pharmaceutical sector plays a major role in building self-reliance in its public health system.
The last few years have seen concerted efforts being made to strengthen Africa’s local pharmaceutical manufacturing capacity to meet the needs of the continent. Two major continent-wide interventions are the establishment of the African Medicine Agency (AMA) and the introduction of the African Pharmaceutical Technology Foundation (APTF).
Individually, African countries have also been making progress in addressing the challenges that impede their local pharmaceutical manufacturers in order to ensure sustainable access to quality and affordable essential medicines. A good example is the Nigerian WHO prequalification programme championed by Nigeria’s National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development (NIPRD) and Bloom Public Health.
This programme will support selected Nigerian pharmaceutical manufacturing companies in the attainment of Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) and WHO prequalification for their antimalarial medical products. Bloom Public Health is also championing the establishment of pharmaceutical manufacturing parks in Nigeria as a potent and effective model for revolutionising the pharmaceutical sector.
2. Strengthening analytical and diagnostic laboratories: The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the central role of reliable and timely laboratory services in building resilient health systems. Africa must therefore leverage strategic public-private partnerships (PPPs) to complement public sector efforts and fill the critical gaps that exist in its laboratory systems.
Strategies for the capacity building of laboratories in Africa include strengthening laboratory accreditation and monitoring, building laboratory human resources capacity through training, and increasing investment in laboratory systems, among others.
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3. Strengthening the pharmaceutical workforce: Possibly the biggest challenge to the continent’s ability to build resilient public health systems is the skilled pharmaceutical workforce gap. There is a need for a well-crafted strategy for developing local expertise that will lead to the manufacture of quality-assured medicines now and in the future and also develop professionals who can regulate pharmaceutical quality in Africa.
Bloom Public Health strongly proposes to establish an African Pharmaceutical Academy (APA) that will aim to provide needed skills and expertise relevant to the pharmaceutical industry. While plans for the APA are underway, Bloom Public Health has partnered with Biotech Training Facility in the Netherlands to establish the African Vaccine Academy (AVA), an African-wide initiative that will build a critical mass of talent for local vaccine manufacturing in Africa’s pharmaceutical sector.
Other key strategies to strengthen Africa’s public health in the post-pandemic era include accelerating the integration of digital health technologies, prioritising public health financing, and strengthening community participation in healthcare to ensure the sustainability of public health interventions.
In conclusion, Africa needs to think globally but act locally to build back better. African governments should maximise the experience gained from the pandemic to address the vulnerabilities in their public health systems, not only to ensure progress continues in improving health outcomes for their opulations but, in doing so, to enhance their resilience to future public-health emergencies.
Professor Anyakora is the CEO of Bloom Public Health and a public health expert. Odibeli is a pharmacist and the regional communications manager at Bloom Public Health.