On July 9, DSW and Wateraid organised the high-level event A roadmap to a healthy and sustainable future. Health and water at the core of the EU-Africa Partnership, which took place under the auspices of the Slovenian Presidency of the Council of the European Union. The event gathered representatives from the EU and African institutions and from civil society organisations, to discuss how the future EU-Africa partnership could strengthen the collaboration between the two continents in the area of health.
The event was opened by the interventions of Dr. Stanislav Raščan, Slovenian State Secretary, acting as Minister for Development, who stressed the need to scale up the cooperation in the area of health and water with African partners, particularly with those whose health systems are more fragile.
EU Commissioner for International Partnerships Jutta Urpilainen, who contributed to the discussion with a video message, underlined that health and water are key priorities for the EU’s development cooperation, stressing that the EU will increase its bilateral and regional support to African partners on health, with a focus on stronger health systems and Universal Health Coverage (UHC). She also confirmed the EU will continue to support global health initiatives, including WHO, Global Fund, GAVI, and UNFPA Supplies.
Health at the core of the EU-Africa partnership
The next AU-EU summit is a great opportunity to ensure that the future EU-Africa partnership steps up support to strengthen health systems. Marjeta Jager, Deputy Director General, DG INTPA, European Commission, reminded the audience that “no-one is safe until everybody is safe”- which is yet another reason for the future EU-Africa partnership to play a key role in addressing the most pressing health challenges, such as ending the COVID-19 pandemic but also, importantly the neglected epidemics of HIV, tuberculosis, malaria and other infectious diseases – for which also water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) is critical!
Strengthening EU-Africa collaboration in the area of global health Research and Innovation was presented as one of the key recommendations to build a strong partnership on health between the two continents. Africa-EU health research cooperation is a success story spearheaded by the EDCTP – as Dr. Michael Makanga (Executive Director, EDCTP) made clear during the event. This partnership is playing a key role in tackling infectious diseases, improving health security, and promoting a knowledge economy. Yet the pandemic shows that we need to do more.
Africa imports 99% of its medicines. It is paramount that EU-Africa cooperation ensures equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines and other health tools. This includes supporting African efforts to strengthen and harmonise medicine regulation in the continent – in particular the establishment of an African Medicines Agency – as Fati N’zi-Hassane (Head of Human Capital, AUDA-NEPAD) and Dr. Ogwell Ouma (Deputy Director, African CDC) stressed.
What is needed? Political will, funding, and a cross-sectoral approach
Several representatives from civil society provided inputs on how the future EU-Africa partnership should prioritise health, with the goal of achieving UHC. It was clear that this would require cross-sectoral approaches, making sure different sectors (WASH, sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), epidemic preparedness, or global health research and innovation) work together in synergies to promote health for all, with a key role for local communities. In fact, we should aim for UWHC, adding the important element of water (sanitation and hygiene) to the picture of interconnected basic needs that ought to be addressed.
From the debate with decision-makers that followed, it was clear that there is political will – a positive sign! But it was also clear that many challenges remain – in particular in the area of SRHR. To translate commitments into results, funding for health in EU-Africa collaboration must be prioritised.
The way forward
DSW remains confident that the EU institutions will put health high on the political agenda, as part of the EU-Africa relations, in view of the EU-AU summit that will likely take place under the EU French Presidency in the first semester of 2022, as French Minister Lemoyne said in his closing remarks. Decision-makers should fully involve civil society from both continents, to hear from them about their ideas and views on how health cooperation between the two continents can be strengthened: the event highlighted how civil society and decision-makers can have meaningful exchanges, resulting in concrete recommendations.
We look forward to seeing political will translated into concrete actions, with health cooperation at the core of the renewed EU-Africa partnership.