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More than $2.4 trillion is lost to diseases annually in Africa, WHO says in new report

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THE World Health Organization (WHO) has estimated that more than 2.4 trillion dollars are lost to the diseases afflicting the population across its member countries in Africa annually.

This is contained in a report launched at the second WHO Africa Health Forum ongoing at Cabo Verde, started on March 26 to end on March 28.

The report already published on the WHO website is titled “A Heavy Burden: The Productivity Cost of Illness in Africa”.

It stated that nearly 630 million years of healthy life were lost in 2015 due to the diseases afflicting the population across its 47 member states in Africa, amounting to an annual loss of more than 2.4 trillion dollars from the region’s gross domestic product value.

Five countries including Nigeria, , Ethiopia, South Africa, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, accounted for almost 50 per cent of the total years lost in healthy life accrued in the African countries.

The findings of the WHO study on disease burden suggest that health systems strengthening should focus on rich as well as poor countries and on all ages as well as on the specific disease categories.

According to WHO, non-communicable diseases have overtaken infectious diseases as the largest drain on productivity, accounting for 37 per cent of the disease burden.

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Other culprits for lost healthy years are communicable and parasitic diseases; maternal, neonatal and nutrition-related conditions; and injuries.

The global health group, however, found that around 47 per cent, or $796 billion, of this lost productivity value could be avoided by 2030 if the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) related to these health conditions are achieved.

Launching an investment case to achieve goal three of the SDGs (which is based on good health and wellbeing) and universal health coverage (UHC) in Africa, the WHO said African countries require to spend, on average, at least, $271 per capita per year on health or 7.5 per cent of the gross domestic product.

“Four years into the implementation of countries’ efforts towards achieving UHC, current average expenditure on health in the Region falls short of this expectation,” wrote the WHO African Director, Matshidiso Moeti, in the foreword of the report.

To achieve the health-related SDG targets, WHO mentioned that “countries must invest adequately in the development of resilient national and local health systems to effectively, affordably and efficiently deliver the integrated packages of proven cost-effective interventions contained in relevant programmatic global strategies and plans.

“The unpredictability of public revenues combined with mounting debt pressure is limiting the potential fiscal space that can be made available for health,” the report indicated.

“Private financing sources have filled the gap, but either with out-of-pocket expenses that result in financial hardship or insufficient voluntary private health insurance that is not effective in extending service coverage to those that need it.”

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The report pointed out that achieving the SDGs by 2030, including the target of universal health coverage, would require political will and greater focus on government-led planning and financing for health.

It would also necessitate greater outlays from public revenue, reforms to raise additional revenue and strategic purchasing mechanisms, as well as putting the masses at the centre of health financing reform.

The report concluded on the saying that “health is wealth”. It stated that the full achievement of health SDG targets will lift the poor from poverty, reduce inequities, tackle exclusion, enhance economic productivity and enhance different population groups capacities to flourish.

“This report illustrates how achievement of the critical health SDG targets, including universal health coverage, would contribute to poverty eradication efforts on a large scale, reduce disparities in lifespan, tackle social exclusion and promote political stability and economic development in the WHO African Region,” explains Grace Kabaniha, Health Economist in the WHO Regional Office for Africa.

“It also provides much-needed evidence that ministries of health can use in dialogue on resource allocation with ministries of finance. It adds to the body of evidence showing that health is a strategic investment for development.”

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