At the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, it was predicted that most of the health systems in Africa and the COMESA region would be overwhelmed by the unprecedented spread of the virus. Anecdotal evidence based on country-specific interventions, however, indicates that countries in the region have demonstrated remarkable resilience defying earlier predictions.
According to an analysis conducted by Governance, Peace and Security Unit at the COMESA Secretariat, stringent measures that regional States put in place including mandatory quarantine, curfews, closure of social and entertainment venues, closure of schools, encouragement of basic hygiene measures among other interventions played a big role in containing a surge.
“For the COMESA region with relatively weak health systems characterised by inadequate health personnel, inadequate equipment, inadequate budgets and a high burden of infectious diseases (such as Malaria, TB, HIV, Ebola), it was expected that the continued spread of the virus would overburden the health systems in the region,” the report says.
According to the analysis, reforms in the health sector, whereby governments have made policy commitments to implement Universal Health Care (UHC), have also worked well towards forestalling the earlier predicted surge. The UHC is premised on the idea that every citizen should receive health services they need without financial burden.
COMWARN regional data indicates that most governments in the region have introduced health reforms that have led to improvements in health services. For example, Tunisia, Seychelles, Rwanda, Mauritius and Egypt have already rolled the UHC programme with positive impacts on reduction in mortality rates, improved life expectancy and public health expenditure.
The report notes that majority of the regional States have strived to allocate 15% of public expenditure to the health sector and with the continued spread of the Coronavirus, this has triggered more financial investments in the sector.
“Countries in the region have increased health funding to deal with the emergencies associated with the spread of the Covid-19,” the GPS report states. “Extra budget allocations have been provided by governments to enhance for instance surveillance, purchase of medical supplies, construction of isolation centres, recruitment of more health personnel among others.”
Notwithstanding, countries in the region have registered important milestones in the improvement of healthcare since the adoption of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2000 and the launch of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015 as part of the 2030 agenda for sustainable development.
Reforms in the health sector have further led to the improvement in life expectancy from an average of 61.60 years in 2010 to 66.07 years in 2018. In the context of the COMESA Early Warning System’s (COMWARN’s) Structural Vulnerability Assessment (SVA) COMWARN SVA model, life expectancy is the number of years a new-born infant would live if prevailing patterns of mortality at the time of its birth were to stay the same throughout its life.
By 2017, Libya, Tunisia, Mauritius, and Seychelles had reduced child mortality to 1.4%, the lowest in the region. Other countries that have made tremendous progress are Egypt 2.3% Madagascar 4.2%, Kenya 4.5%, Uganda 5.2% and Comoros 6.9%.
The GPS analysis was based on four World Health Organization health delivery framework, which covers service delivery, health workforce, access to essential equipment and medication and adequate resources/finance. This framework is in tandem with the COMWARN’s SVA model that seeks to support long term vulnerability of member states towards sustained peace and prosperity by identifying projected vulnerabilities in respective countries.