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ECOWAS President Commends Health Ministers’ Leadership amid Regional Health Challenges

By Edward Samuel, Abuja

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The President of the Economic Community of West Africa State, (ECOWAS) Commission, Dr. Omar Alieu Touray, has commended the Assembly of Health Ministers for their leadership and guidance in strengthening Regional Health Security.

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Touray highlighted their pivotal role in enabling ECOWAS to overcome the challenges posed by epidemics and pandemics, and saluted their dedication to the ECOWAS community.

Dr. Omar Alieu Touray made the commendation during the 25th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Health Ministers of ECOWAS in Abuja, the nation’s capital.

He emphasized that healthcare is critical to the integration agenda of ECOWAS, aiming to build an economic community and improve living standards for citizens.

Touray linked healthcare improvements to the broader objectives of ECOWAS Vision 2050, which aspires to transform the region from a collection of states into a unified community of people.

“The significant achievements, such as the abolition of visas and the development of infrastructure and common policies, which have facilitated the free movement of people, goods, and services, during the Ebola epidemic in 2014 and the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the Health Ministers played a crucial role in managing the crises, ensuring that regional solidarity and cooperation were maintained”. He said.

The President highlighted the critical role of the West African Health Organization (WAHO) in addressing health issues and supporting regional integration.

Touray also addressed the numerous challenges facing the region, including climate change, insecurity, and political instability, which have led to significant migration and displacement. He mentioned that over 20 million people in the ECOWAS region require humanitarian aid, and WAHO has developed strategies to manage the health of internally displaced persons and refugees.

“I congratulated Cabo Verde for eliminating malaria, demonstrating that quality healthcare can eradicate diseases. I am confident that the outcomes of the assembly meeting would enhance healthcare across the region and reiterated the importance of maintaining high standards of healthcare to support regional development and integration”. He added.

In his welcome address, the Director General of the West African Health Organization (WAHO), Dr. Melchoir Athanase called for a unified effort to bolster health initiatives across West Africa.

Dr. Athanase emphasized the importance of allocating sufficient resources to the region, underscoring the capability of the ECOWAS countries to combat diseases effectively. He identified malaria as one of the major public health issues and advocated for a collective approach to achieve its elimination.

“With adequate political will and collaboration, all 14 ECOWAS countries could eradicate malaria by sharing best practices and respecting the socio-cultural contexts of their communities”. He said.

Highlighting the importance of community response in health initiatives, Dr. Athanase noted that a process of regional harmonization of health policies has already begun. He pointed out that coordinated efforts and a good synergy of resources are crucial for effective disease elimination.

Dr. Athanase emphasized the need for proactive measures, suggesting that investing in disease prevention and early intervention is more cost-effective than addressing widespread outbreaks.

“The misalignment of maternity leave policies with this health recommendation called for a collective reflection among stakeholders to improve the well-being of working mothers and their babies, harmonizing health policies across member states is vital for addressing such issues comprehensively”. He said.

Dr. Athanase expressed hope that the outcomes of the meeting would lead to significant advancements in regional healthcare and reaffirmed WAHO’s commitment to working within its mandate, with the support of all stakeholders, to achieve the shared goals of health improvement and disease elimination in West Africa.

The Coordinating Minister Health and Social Welfare in Nigeria, Prof. Ali Pate, emphasized the urgent need for robust collaboration and investment in West Africa’s healthcare system.

“West Africa has to be supported by all of us by making sure we put resources there, it is our collective responsibility in fighting diseases and enhancing public health across the region”. He said.

Highlighting the critical importance of eliminating malaria, Prof. Pate underscored that the ECOWAS region is capable of eradicating the disease through shared resources and unified action.

“If we have enough political will and work together, we’ll enable us to really eliminate diseases by sharing best practices and working within the context of social-cultural realities of our communities”. He remarked.

Prof. Pate also drew attention to the ongoing negotiations for a pandemic agreement, emphasizing the need for a strong, unified voice from the region.

“We cannot accept to be back like we were in 2020 when we were facing COVID,” he said, urging ministers to continue their efforts in achieving a consensus on the agreement. He noted that this unity is crucial for better preparedness and response to future health crises.

“Africa is not a continent just of disasters, we can leverage on our successes to make a huge impact.” I commend the efforts of health officials and the community response, which have been pivotal in addressing health challenges in the region”. He said.

Prof. Pate also addressed the issue of health workforce shortages, highlighting a significant shortfall of healthcare professionals. He announced initiatives led by the Africa CDC to address these gaps, including political commitments from heads of state and the launch of the Africa Health Workforce Investment Charter.

“We are facing an estimated shortfall of 7 million healthcare workers by 2023,” he revealed, emphasizing the need for investment in training and employment opportunities.

The Director General of Africa CDC Dr. Jean Kaseya, praised ECOWAS for its proactive role in organizing the meeting ahead of the World Health Assembly, stating, “At Africa CDC, we are learning from you. This is why we have decided to bring all ministers from 55 countries together before the WHA to unify our voice.”

Dr. Kaseya encouraged continuous dialogue and commitment to achieving the agreement, underscoring the critical role of political will and coordinated efforts.

He also celebrated the success of Cabo Verde in eliminating malaria, urging other member states to build on this achievement. “Africa is not a continent just of disasters,” he asserted. “Let us build on our successes to make a huge impact at both the regional and continental levels.” He emphasized the importance of learning from regional achievements to foster broader progress in public health.

In addition to celebrating past successes, Dr. Kaseya laid out three major flagships for 2024: addressing the healthcare workforce shortfall, advancing local manufacturing of health products, and implementing innovative financing solutions.

He declared the local manufacturing agenda “non-negotiable” and called for better coordination and clear vision to effectively use available funds.

“It means money is not the issue, coordination and clear vision are the issues, I urged ministers to take responsibility for managing health investments efficiently”. He stated.

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