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Donors making a difference: healthier communities across Africa

Contributor support is empowering WHO to lead lifesaving work across Africa, while helping country health systems grow stronger to face threats to health and wellbeing.

At this year’s World Health Assembly, WHO and the Africa Centres for Disease Control launched a five-year plan to detect, monitor and swiftly respond to disease outbreaks. At the same event, African governments, WHO, and Amref Health Africa announced an initiative to strengthen national health systems to withstand natural disasters and other effects of climate change.

Progress is showing on many other fronts: In Kenya, farmers are finding prosperity while switching from harmful tobacco crops to healthy food crops. In Rwanda, new malaria-control initiatives reduced deaths from the disease nearly 90% between 2016 and 2022. In Chad, a few months of intensive outreach brought COVID-19 vaccination to more than half the country’s population, including hard-to-reach groups.

“This is the first time I have been approached for the COVID-19 vaccine,” said Halima Abdrahim, a 60-year-old nomad reached by a mobile clinic team in Chad. “When I was told about its benefits, I agreed to take it.”

Read on for stories of Africa’s largest polio vaccination campaign since 2020, debunking health misinformation in Ghana, and more news from Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Malawi.

European Union support has helped Chad deploy mobile teams to vaccinate hard-to-reach communities of nomads, internally displaced people and refugees, and boost the country’s COVID-19 vaccination coverage rates from 1% to 56% in the space of about six months.

“We use mobile clinics to deliver care to populations that are at least eight kilometres away from a health centre. With COVID-19 vaccination, we have strengthened this mobile strategy to be able to vaccinate people where they are,” said Dr Cyril Rozoumka, head doctor at Baga Sola District Hospital. “This has been a significant factor in achieving good coverage.”

WHO and the Africa Centres for Disease Control have launched a five-year plan to detect, monitor and swiftly respond to disease outbreaks, which strike the continent more than 100 times every year.

“Joining forces with WHO will significantly improve our ability to safeguard the health of African populations during times of crisis,” Africa CDC Director General Dr Jean Kaseya said. “Together, we will build resilient health systems and ensure a coordinated and effective response to emergencies across the continent.”

The plan aims to strengthen surveillance and genomic sequencing for quicker detection; stockpile emergency supplies at newly established sub-regional hubs to improve emergency-response operations, and deploy first responders within 48 hours of a disease outbreak.

When Kenyan farmer Nancy Achieng switched her crop from tobacco to high-iron beans just over a year ago, she joined hundreds of her peers in earning a much higher income and embracing a healthier lifestyle.

Achieng no longer faces embarrassment about overdue school fees and says her three children suffer far fewer respiratory illnesses than when the family farmed tobacco.

“My family is much more economically stable, and my eldest son is now even attending university,” Ms Achieng said.

The Tobacco Free Farms initiative is a joint initiative of WHO, the World Food Programme, and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, in collaboration with the Kenyan government. It was launched Kenya in 2022 and is set to expand to Zambia.

The number of malaria cases in Rwanda have dropped significantly since 2016 thanks to the expansion and decentralization of malaria-control initiatives supported by WHO, the country’s government, and other partners.

The infection rate dropped from 409 cases per 1000 people in 2016 to 76 cases per 1000 people in 2022. Malaria deaths also fell by more than 89% over the same period.

Partnering with WHO, the country has trained 30 000 community health workers to provide comprehensive malaria treatment at home, an approach that is credited with saving hundreds of lives. In 2022, 55% of all recorded cases were diagnosed and treated by community health workers, compared with 15% in 2016.

In late May, Africa kicked off its largest polio vaccination campaign since 2020, aiming to immunize 21 million children under the age of five against the life-threatening, paralyzing virus.

The campaign involved Cameroon, Chad, Niger and the Central African Republic, countries where type-2 polioviruses had recently been discovered.

“This is a crucial undertaking to close vaccination gaps in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and will provide millions of children with vital protection from the risk of irreversible polio paralysis,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa. “Synchronizing the campaign will ensure that a large cohort of children across the four countries receive the vaccine at the same time to enhance polio immunity in a broad geographic area.”

Community volunteers in Ghana have been helping debunk vaccination myths and encouraging people to get their COVID-19 jabs in Bono East district, one of the country’s major international transit points.

Among those circulating through neighborhoods is Abednego Afreh, who offers facts about the benefits of the vaccine. He says many people fear that “something will happen to them after the injection.” He tries to allay those fears by providing accurate information.

Mr Afreh is among more than 100 other volunteers in Bono East district who were trained by the Ghana Health Service with support from WHO and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.

African governments, WHO, and Amref Health Africa launched an initiative in May at the World Health Assembly to strengthen national health systems to withstand natural disasters and other effects of climate change.

“The initiative launched today lays a strong foundation for building resilient health systems that can continue providing essential services even as they deal with the devastation of floods, drought, environmental degradation, disease outbreaks and other impacts of climate change,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.

Of more than 2,100 public health events recorded in the region between 2001 and 2021, 56% were climate related. Natural disasters have been on the rise, accounting for 70% of all the disasters between 2017 and 2021.

When Malawian journalist Suwira Wanda participated in a recent workshop to sensitize national media organizations to misinformation, she learned that it is possible to be asymptomatic for cholera, but still infect others through contaminated water.

The WHO-led training came at an opportune moment: The country’s fight against its worst cholera outbreak was being undermined by rumors and misinformation.

“This workshop reminded me of the need to do more digging when I’m unsure of information, and to ask an expert whether or not a rumor is true,” said Ms Wanda, who works for Zodiac, one of Malawi’s leading media outlets.

WHO is providing many such trainings to teach health workers and media professionals to identify and debunk health disinformation, especially during health emergencies or disease outbreaks. Read more

WHO thanks all governments, organizations and individuals who are contributing to the Organization’s work, with special appreciation for those who provide fully flexible contributions to maintain a strong, independent WHO.

Source: WHO