By Prudence Arobani
A new report by the World Health Organisation (WHO) Regional Office for Africa has shown a high improvement in health in the region.
WHO, at the study, launched during the 68th session of the WHO Regional Committee in Dakar, provided a snapshot of the state of health in the African region.
The report said life expectancy across Africa had improved significantly, but national health systems must be improved to ensure that services get to the people who need them most.
Emerging data shows a continued improvement, with the continent seeing the biggest jump in healthy life expectancy – time spent in full health – anywhere in the world.
The life expectancy jumped from 50.9 years in 2012, to 53.8 years in 2015, according to the report.
Deaths resulting from the 10 biggest health risks in Africa – such as lower respiratory infections, HIV and diarrhoeal diseases – dropped by half between 2000 and 2015, partly as a result of specialised health programmes.
Speaking at the launch of the report, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO’s Regional Director for Africa, said: “I’m proud that Africans are now living longer and healthier lives.
“Nearly three years of extra health is a gift that makes us all proud. Of course we hope that these gains will continue and the region will reach global standards”.
At the same time, the report warned that this achievement could only be sustained and expanded if health services are significantly improved.
It stated that the performance of health systems in the region – measured by access to services, quality of care, community demand for services and resilience to outbreaks – was low.
Chronic diseases like heart disease and cancer need to be tackled, with a person aged 30 to 70 in the region having a one in five chance of dying from a non-communicable disease.
Two critical age groups – adolescents and the elderly – are being under-served, with surveys indicating a complete lack of elder care in a third of African countries.
Moeti said: “Health services must keep up with the evolving health trends in the region. In the past we focused on specific diseases as these were causing a disproportionately high number of deaths.
“We have been highly successful at stopping these threats, and people’s health is now being challenged by a broad range of conditions. We need to develop a new and more holistic approach to health.”
This approach involves increasing spending on health, but also targeting funds in more effective ways, according to the report.
The report suggested that health systems that perform well invest up to 40 per cent of their budgets on their workforce, and a third on infrastructure.
WHO said, however, the report, which made specific recommendations for each of the countries of the region, and identifies areas where nations are demonstrating good practice, was not a scorecard.
Algeria demonstrated good practice with its good coverage of available health service, Kenya has a good range of available essential services, and Mauritius has good access to services.
By improving performance, the countries have a better chance of meeting their commitment to achieve health-related targets set by the Sustainable Development Goals, the report stated.