The 67th World Health Organization’s Regional Committee for Africa took place recently (28 August to 1 September 2017) in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. The annual meeting brings together ministers of health from the Africa region to set policy, approve budgets and the programme of work for the region.

Ministers of health from the Africa region

Ministers of health from the Africa region. © WHO AFRO

The meeting was officially opened by the president of Zimbabwe, His Excellency, Cde. Robert Gabriel Mugabe and attended by ministers of health and their delegations, UN agencies, international health partnerships, civil society, bilateral and multilateral organizations, and other development partners. This also happened to be the first regional committee meeting for Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the new director general of the World Health Organization.

Throughout the week, ministers engaged in lively debate and discussions with the aims of working towards universal health coverage and improving the health and wellbeing of people in the Africa region.

“The ‘Africa we Want’ is within our reach and we as Africans need only to strengthen our partnerships and turn our health aspirations into a reality.”

Her Excellency Amira ElFadil, African Union Commission Commissioner for Social Affairs

Commitment to achieving universal health coverage

The most exciting moment of the committee meeting for Uniting to Combat NTDs was the endorsement of universal health coverage by the ministers of health. Ministers adopted a new health systems strengthening framework to achieve universal health coverage, stating that they would:

  • improve availability of essential services
  • scale up coverage with essential health interventions
  • protect people from catastrophic health expenditure
  • ensure effective health security
  • promote client satisfaction and health system responsiveness
  • expand coverage with essential interventions in other SDGs that have a significant influence on health

This momentous commitment is vital if the world is to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal 3.8 on universal health coverage and it underscores the importance of achieving the goals for neglected tropical diseases – diseases of the poorest people in our society for whom the SDGs are particularly targeting.

“UHC is the foundation for healthier communities, stronger economies and our collective security.”

Dr Dovlo, Director of the Health System & Services Cluster, WHO AFRO

Celebrating 30 years of the Mectizan Donation Programme

On Tuesday 29 August, ministers of health recognised the important contribution of the Mectizan Donation Program (MDP) as they celebrated the 30th anniversary of the drug donation programme at a side event. MDP provides drug donations for onchocerciasis and lymphatic filariasis.

Dr Moeti highlighted that after the amazing progress of MDP and the now retired African Program for Onchocerciasis Control (APOC), the World Health Organization was changing its target from controlling onchocerciasis to eliminating it.

Togo’s great achievement of becoming the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to eliminate lymphatic filariasis was celebrated at the side event. Dave Ross, CEO of the Task Force for Global Health (which hosts the Mectizan Donation Program) presented an award to the country of Togo in recognition of this significant milestone. We hope this will inspire as many countries on the continent to achieve such elimination milestones.

7 billion tablets of Mectizan have shipped since the start of the program in 1987

Recognising the success of ESPEN

ESPEN, the Expanded Special Project for Elimination of Neglected Tropical Diseases, was set up last year to eliminate the five diseases amenable to preventive chemotherapy.

The early successes of ESPEN were highlighted in Dr Moeti’s report (PDF 7.5MB), including reaching millions of people in its first year.

8.5 million people reached through MDA in 12 countries 132 million tablets recovered after being unaccounted for in 7 countries


Heading to Senegal in 2018

The city of Dakar in Senegal will host the next session of the WHO Regional Committee for Africa in 2018.

We’re excited to highlight that the issue of neglected tropical diseases has been included in the draft provisional agenda for next year’s meeting (PDF 108KB).

We would like to thank the WHO AFRO region and the country of Zimbabwe for hosting an engaging and productive regional committee.

Building stronger, resilient and responsive health systems, which reach all localities and citizens … is the best way to bring equitable health care to all people in Africa.”

Dr Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa