Scientists and leaders convene to call for an African-driven public health agenda

Addis Ababa, 15 November 2021 – In the wake of the ongoing global pandemic, African leaders and scientists are calling for improved public health through investment in strengthened healthcare systems and local production of diagnostics, pharmaceuticals and vaccines to combat current and future disease outbreaks.

With the largest burden of endemic diseases in the world and frequent outbreaks, the African continent is home to the majority of the 10 million infectious disease deaths recorded globally every year, resulting in a productivity loss of $800 billion.

‘COVID-19 exposed how easily global cooperation and international solidarity can collapse,’ said John Nkengasong, Director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. ‘One of the greatest lessons learned by Africa is the need to invest in its healthcare systems and create a new public health order as critical to secure the health of our people and continent.’

Nkengasong spoke on the side lines of the African Society for Laboratory Medicine 2021 conference where experts are convening, virtually, to explore the impact of COVID-19 on health systems in Africa, analyse how laboratory systems have fared in the crisis, and discuss what is needed to prepare for the next pandemic, while also addressing routine health needs throughout Africa.

Annually, the continent combats 100+ disease outbreaks including Cholera, Ebola, HIV, malaria, tuberculosis, and now, COVID-19. The Africa CDC deploys a force of trained epidemiologists, laboratory and infection control experts. Containment strategies have included coordination across borders for preparedness, as well as early disease detection and response. Bolstered by recent successes in responding to infectious disease threats, experts call for more.

‘The strength of Africa’s COVID-19 response indicates what we are capable of,’ said Haja Isatta Wurie, Associate Professor at University of Sierra Leone and co-chair of the conference. ‘Africans need to be the ones to set our own health agenda with equal and fair partnerships to achieve global health goals.’

However, production of pharmaceuticals, vaccines and diagnostics in Africa remains extremely low. Africa imports between 70% and 90% of their drugs; furthermore, a large portion of Africans do not have access to the diagnostic resources essential for common medical conditions.

ASLM has been leading laboratory strengthening across Africa for a decade. The organisation coordinates, galvanises and mobilises local, national and international players to improve access to quality assured diagnostic services to ensure healthy communities now, and in the long term.

‘With an understanding of the challenges on the ground, and a connection to governments, ministries, civil societies, partners and the people in the laboratory doing the work, ASLM has been building stronger systems throughout Africa for ten years,’ said Nqobile Ndlovu, Chief Executive Officer of ASLM. ‘It is the connection to the communities and the knowledge of what works that has led to exponential progress.’ 


Notes to the editor: 

The ASLM 2021 conference will take place virtually 15-18 November 2021. Program is available here.

About ASLM video.

Speakers of note:

Contact Natalie Bailey, [email protected] to arrange access to the conference and/or interviews with conference speakers.