According to the Director-General of the West Africa Health Organisation (WAHO), Professor Stanley Okolo, aside the COVID-19 pandemic, the sub-region was facing several outbreaks which put the population at risk, eroding gains made in the health sector over the years.
“In 2021 alone, the region had 40 separate disease outbreaks including Cholera, Lassa fever, Marburg fever and Ebola.
Today, excluding COVID-19, we have eight ongoing outbreaks on the region; Cholera, Dengue fever, Lassa fever, Yellow Fever, Avian influenza, Measles, Monkey pox and Vaccine derived polio,” he said at the 23rdOrdinary Meeting of the ECOWAS Assembly of Health Ministers in Accra on Friday.
The meeting which brought together sector Ministers from the 15 ECOWAS member states was to review the health situation in the sub-region, identify achievements made and challenges in building resilient healthcare systems towards achieving global health targets.
To this end, all Health Ministers in the region signed up to the “Accra Declaration Form” reaffirm their commitment at scaling up efforts, implementing policies and programmes to attain Universal Health Coverage (UHC) by 2030.
Prof. Okolo, pegged life expectancy at birth on the region at between 54.7 to 73 years, adding deaths resulting from communicable diseases ranged from 16 to 65 per cent with non-communicable diseases, from 27 to 70 per cent.
“Malaria continues to cause many preventable deaths of under-five and the combined effect of climate change, migration and weak health systems has made the question of health security even more pressing, ”he noted.
The Director-General urged while the COVID-19 pandemic was “running out of steam” in the region, governments do not become complacent and that vaccination campaigns are acceleratedto “defeat this pandemic and quicken economic recovery.”
“One of the lessons of the pandemic is the need to plan adequately for non-pandemic essential health issues for any future crisis and despite creditable achievement of the region with respect to COVID-19,health indicators need to be improved in all major areas of focus,” he urged.
The Minister of Health and Chairman for the ECOWAS Assembly of Health Minister’s, Kwaku Agyeman-Manu, expressed concern over fragmentation in healthcare delivery, especially at the primary level.
“As a result, effective management of chronic diseases is hampered by poor coordination between specialist health care andprimary health care.”
Mr Agyeman-Manu warned that the challenge coupled with perennial human resource for health deficit and the COVID-19 pandemic could deepen social inequalities on the sub-region.
“We must use this opportunity to reform and improve our healthcare systems. We must organise our health systems better and implement more effective prevention measures at population level,” he charged.