World Health Summit: IAEA Contributes to Strengthening and Expanding Quality Health Care in Africa

The critical role of the IAEA in expanding access to quality health care in Africa was highlighted at the World Health Summit in Berlin last week.

The Summit brought together some 2,000 leaders from academia, politics, civil society and the private sector. Arriving from over 80 countries, its participants discussed the most pressing issues that medicine and health care systems face today and in the future.

At the panel session on ‘Strengthening Innovation and Health Systems in Africa: Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals’, IAEA Deputy Director General Dazhu Yang described the unique and very active part the IAEA plays in improving health care systems in developing countries, especially in Africa.

“Through its technical cooperation programme, the IAEA provides support to developing countries in the safe and effective use of radiation medicine and related nuclear techniques, and builds essential capacities in medical staff. We help Member States address growing global health challenges like cancer, cardiovascular diseases and malnutrition, but also communicable diseases and outbreaks of diseases such as Ebola and Zika,” he said.

“The IAEA also make an important contribution to the ‘determinants of health’ in areas such as food safety and security, water resource management, environmental protection and radiation safety, which help Member States address health related challenges,” he added.  

Other members of the high-level panel, including co-chairs UNAIDS Deputy Executive Director Luiz Loures and German Health Care Partnership Chairman Roland Göhde, also spoke of challenges and ways of the role of innovative policies and practices in health care.

Loures highlighted the importance of SDG 3 focusing on ‘Health for all’. “Achieving better health, in particular for patients in developing countries, will be a key indicator for success of the SDGs,” he said. “In order to see a better world and better health, significant investment, innovation and partnerships in Africa are needed. The region is particularly well placed to benefit from integrated approaches to health, development and security, as well as enhanced consensus-building, information sharing and knowledge exchange.”

Margaret Anyetei-Agama, Head of the Division of Health, Nutrition and Population at the African Union, referred to the strong health focus included in the ‘African Agenda 2063’, a strategic framework for the socioeconomic transformation of the continent, adopted by African Heads of State in 2013. She noted the population growth the region will experience and the urgent need to build effective and affordable health services to meet the needs of the three billion people expected to live in Africa within 50 years. “We are putting a strong emphasis on boosting Government commitments to strengthen health systems across the region, building the political will to address priority challenges and developing appropriate financing mechanisms to make services affordable,” she said.

Berhard Haufiku Minister, Ministry of Health Namibia, stressed the important role of increasing access to quality health services as a key driver of prosperity. “There can be no development without health and wellbeing,” he said. Enhanced action was required in the immediate future, especially to ramp up education and training efforts to increase the number of health workers across Africa, rapidly introduce innovative technologies, move towards universal health coverage and to involve the private sector in the delivery of quality care in a sustainable manner. He recognized the important role of the IAEA in supporting the country’s efforts to address cancer-related challenges through human and institutional capacity building.  

The panelists concluded that the Global Development Agenda 2030 provides a very important platform through which countries and the international community can focus attention on swiftly and sustainably improving health in Africa. The IAEA’s Yang expressed the continued commitment of the Agency to strongly support Member States in using nuclear technology for the health and well-being. “We are building on our long-standing cooperation with Member States and a range of international organizations to leverage our common strengths,” he said. “Partnerships that promote integrated approaches to development ensure coordination and complementarity of activities and as a result we will achieve better health for people.”