Young people have been called upon to take the lead in addressing Africa’s public health challenges, which make the continent more vulnerable to diseases.
The call was made at a youth pre-conference taking place in Kigali ahead of the 2nd Annual International Conference on Public Health in Africa due next week, organised by the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC).
The past three years of Covid-19 have highlighted the need to promote Africa’s long-term preparedness for future pandemics and respond to other health security issues, experts say.
With young people constituting over 65 per cent of Africa’s population, officials say, their meaningful engagement has the potential of positively impacting the continent’s public health security.
Issues at hand include the continent’s disease burden, research output, among others.
“Public health is not for doctors, nurses and epidemiologists; it is for the people, for the youth and for everyone. The Covid-19 pandemic we have gone through for the past three years has demonstrated that we need to invest and strengthen our health systems,” Dr Sabin Nsanzimana, the Minister of Health said.
“From a scientific perspective, Africa has more than 50 per cent of the global disease burden, look at HVI, Malaria, TB, both infectious and non-communicable diseases. But Africa contributes only 1 to 2 per cent of global research output,” Nsanzimana said.
“So, we have the biggest problem in terms of disease burden, but our contribution to the solutions is only two per cent of research output. This is the biggest mismatch I’ve ever seen in my career that we must address as urgently as possible.”
He said that addressing Africa’s public health challenges will need concerted effort by mostly young people.
“The solution doesn’t need to come from overseas, it has to come from us, from you the young people in medical and non-medical schools,” Nsanzimana said.
Though it is not possible to fix the past, he said, it is possible to change the present and the future if Africans take action.
“If we make small innovations, all put together, we will see big changes in our health systems. Africa will move from 2 per cent of research output to 50 or even to 100 per cent, because we must solve our problems 100 per cent,” he said.
He commended Africa CDC for being a key player in ensuring more people are mobilised to take the continent’s challenges, especially taking the lead in the response to Covid-19.
“It’s very strategic to engage young people, because they are the present and the future of our continent. You need to have an attitude that is pro-people, the attitude to change the status quo. We always say Agenda 2063, but we cannot achieve it until we tackle the public health issues,” Rose Mary Mbabazi, the Minister of Youth and Culture, said.
“For instance, during the Covid pandemic we have seen young people in Rwanda, the youth volunteers come out very strongly not waiting for health practitioners. They contributed substantially to the reduction of this pandemic spread within our community.
“That is the kind of spirit you’d want to see in young people, not being spectators and observers, you are very important people in the community.”
Mbabazi encouraged the youth to use the technology and skills at their disposal to inspire change in Africa.
For Dr Nafiisah Chuton of the Africa CDC, African leaders should engage the youth in policymaking in order for better responses to public health issues.
“For a long time, we’ve neglected engaging young people in determining how we implement interventions,” Chuton said.
“In Africa, the majority of our population is young and the public health interventions that we are putting in place also need to be specific towards them as well. We need to engage young people and see how best we can co-create the interventions, and this will make a significant difference.”
The youth pre-conference will be closed on Sunday, December 12. The 2nd Annual International Conference on Public Health in Africa will be held from December 13-15.