Diseases gobble up $2.4 trillion in Africa

Friday April 5 2019

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Mrima maternity hospital in Likoni, Kenya. None of East African countries have met the standard of at least 15 per cent of the national budget allocated to health dockets, according to the Abuja declaration that they are signatory to. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

By The EastAfrican

Africa loses more than $2.4 trillion from its gross domestic product annually to diseases. 

World Health Organisation announced the grim statistics in a report—A Heavy Burden: The Productivity Cost of Illness in Africa —that was last week launched at the second WHO Africa Health Forum in Cabo Verde. 

The estimate comes barely six months after the global health governing body announcement that non-communicable diseases have overtaken infectious diseases, accounting for 37 per cent of the disease burden. 

WHO’s cancer registry, Globocan, reported in December 2018 that one million new cases of cancer and more than half of these patients (693,487) did not survive in that year. 

WHO is now urging countries to invest in any of the 17 sustainable development goal related to health to reduce the burden.

WHO Regional director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti said average expenditure on health as dismal despite the region’s efforts to achieve universal health coverage.

None of East African countries have met the standard of at least 15 per cent of the national budget allocated to health dockets, according to the Abuja declaration that they are signatory to. 

Uganda’s health expenditure per GDP is at 7.2 per cent, while Kenya and Tanzania allocate 6 per centre and 5 per cent of their budgets to health docket. 

Rwanda and Burundi spend 7.5 per cent of the budgets on health. 

According to United Nations Conference on Trade and Development estimates, attaining the 17 SDGs will require spending ranging between $1.5 trillion and $2.5 trillion per year until 2030. 

Low-income countries will need an additional $671 billion, $76 per capita on average until 2030 to attain the health related SGDs. 

To meet the SGD 3 on universal health coverage, African countries are required to spend at least $271 per capita per year on health, or 7.5 per cent of the region’s gross domestic product. 

The WHO study comes at a time when the continent is experiencing public health challenges. 

As of March 25, the death toll from Ebola in Democratic Republic of Congo stood at 621. 

In addition, there has been a wave of cholera outbreaks in the pockets of the continent, including new threats in Mozambique where a cyclone has killed more than 1,000 people. 

Shortage of workers 

Coupled with shortage of healthcare workers, Africa has experienced industrial actions from doctors and nurses, events that have interrupted vaccination exercises. 

Dr Edwin Barasa, a health systems and health policy expert at Kenya Medical Research Institute said investments in health in Kenya should be increased by both national and county governments. 

Dr Barasa pointed out that while there is a need to pump financial resources into curative services, most of the money allocated are spent on remuneration. 

He said this leaves little for strengthening primary healthcare, the level of care where disease prevention that morph into killer cancers takes place. He noted that it was cheaper to prevent and diagnose disease treatment. 

As a target of SDG 3, universal health coverage would require countries in Africa to spend at least $ 271 per capita per year on health.

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