20 March 2024

A statement from UHC2030’s co-chairs ahead of the high-level event on the EU-African Union partnership in global health for equitable access.

Health workers in the Nutrition Department of Soroti Regional Referral Hospital in Uganda check on a mother and her child.

On March 20, the Belgian presidency of the Council of the European Union, the African Union (AU), the Africa Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) and the European Commission, will jointly host a high-level event on strengthening shared ambitions for global health. This is a unique opportunity to reinforce the global health pillar of the Africa-EU partnership and use synergies to strengthen health equity, and progress towards 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (particularly SDG 3) and the 2063 African Union agenda. We welcome the leadership of the AU and EU in their commitment to health for all and call on them to take concrete action towards building equitable and resilient health systems to achieve universal health coverage (UHC), using primary health care as a foundation.

Previous work under this partnership has led to the implementation of strong initiatives at critical times. In 2022, the establishment of an Africa-Europe Global Gateway Investment Package of 150 billion euros supported multisectoral actions, including in health, towards the achievement of a common ambition for the 2030 SDG and 2063 AU agendas. In 2020, the creation of the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A) during the COVID-19 pandemic contributed to relieve the burden under African countries through the delivery of 350 million vaccines. Significant efforts have also been deployed across African countries to strengthen health systems through a primary health care approach.

Despite these efforts, the situation remains critical, particularly in a post-COVID context. Globally, 4.5 billion people are still lacking access to essential services and 2 billion individuals continue to face financial hardship when seeking health services. On the African continent, 615 million individuals do not have access to the health services they need, and 97 million people are facing catastrophic costs when paying for health services. These numbers highlight the urgency to translate political commitments into bold actions.

Progressing towards UHC represents an opportunity to reduce these numbers and improve the health situation of millions of people, particularly among the most vulnerable and marginalised populations, including women and girls, who are often left behind. UHC ensures that all people have access to the essential health services they need without facing any financial hardship. We cannot deliver health for all and health equity unless we achieve UHC. UHC connects all sectors, including health, finance and economics, and is an enabler for the 2030 Agenda. It is also a strategic objective for the EU Global Health Strategy and the Africa Health Strategy 2016–2030.

The upcoming high-level event is an opportunity for AU and EU leaders to work together to ensure equitable access to global health. We call on them to prioritize UHC as the basis for achieving health equity. For that, leaders should:

  • Invest in UHC based on a primary health care approach. Primary health care is the foundation to build equitable and resilient health systems that leave no one behind. It is the most inclusive, equitable and cost-effective approach to make progress towards UHC. Consequently, increased financing must be directed towards enhancing primary health care services.
  • Accelerate efforts in UHC and health security. UHC and health security are two intertwined goals to protect everyone, everywhere - in crisis and calm. They are achieved through the same health system. AU-EU leaders must act now to design and resource integrated approaches to support both UHC and prevention, preparedness and response capacities for health emergencies within wider efforts to build equitable, resilient health systems.
  • Ensure social participation in decision-making processes. Governments alone cannot make progress towards UHC. They must work in synergy with stakeholders that play a critical role in the health processes. AU-EU leaders must institutionalise mechanisms for inclusive health governance and adopt policy frameworks that enable social participation. Genuine partnerships are essential to ensuring that implemented initiatives are coherent, inclusive and more effective.

As high-level officials from the AU and EU public healthcare and development sectors convene in Brussels, we reiterate our call for bold action to achieve UHC and health equity. It is high time to move from commitments to urgent action to attain African health sovereignty.

-Ms Gabriela Cuevas Barron and Dr Justin Koonin, Co-Chairs of the UHC2030 Steering Committee

 

Photo: © WHO / Neil Nuia

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