Photograph — Providence

Owing to the continent’s huge burden of disease, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that Africa loses more than $2.4 trillion from it’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) value annually – equivalent to having lost 630 million years of life in 2015.

In a report titled A Heavy Burden: The Productivity Cost of Illness in Africa, WHO revealed that five countries accounted for almost half of the total years lost. These include the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Ethiopia, Tanzania, Nigeria, and South Africa.

Infectious diseases which have been the largest drain on productivity for several years was overtaken by non-communicable diseases, accounting for 37 percent of the disease burden. While others are communicable and parasitic diseases; maternal, neonatal and nutrition-related conditions; and injuries.

“Four years into the implementation of countries’ efforts towards achieving UHC (Universal Health Coverage), current average expenditure on health in the region falls short of this expectation,” WHO’s Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, writes in the report, as she expressed concerns that countries are not investing enough to achieve the universal health coverage.

The study comes as vulnerable health systems across the continent are facing challenges, with some examples including DRC where Ebola has killed some 621 people and cyclone-hit Mozambique, which is facing a cholera outbreak. In 2018, about one million new cases of cancer were recorded, with more than half (about 693,487 people) losing their lives that year, WHO cancer registry Globocan states.

The report also provides much-needed evidence and reinforces the call for more investments in the development of primary healthcare in Africa. According to the WHO, around 47 percent or $796 billion of lost productivity value could be prevented by 2030 if the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) related to these health conditions are achieved, such as SDG 3 on good health and well-being, and SDG 6 on clean water and sanitation.

Health Economist in WHO’s Regional Office for Africa, Grace Kabaniha explained that the report “illustrates how achievement of the critical health SDG targets, including universal health coverage, would contribute to poverty eradication efforts on a large scale, reduce disparities in lifespan, tackle social exclusion and promote political stability and economic development in the WHO African Region.”

“It also provides much-needed evidence that ministries of health can use in dialogue on resource allocation with ministries of finance. It adds to the body of evidence showing that health is a strategic investment for development,” Kabaniha added.

The findings of the WHO study on disease burden suggest that health systems strengthening should focus on rich as well as poor countries and on all ages as well as on the specific disease categories. To achieve the health-related SDG targets, countries must invest adequately in the development of resilient national and local health systems, IT NEWS AFRICA writes.

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