WAHO holds the 2019 ECOWAS MINISTERS OF HEALTH RETREAT
Aburi, Ghana – The West African Health Organization (WAHO) organized the 2019 ECOWAS Ministers of Health Retreat on 9 March at Peduase Valley Resort, in Aburi, Eastern Region of the Republic of Ghana.
The general objective of the Retreat was to provide the Ministers of Health of ECOWAS Member States, the opportunity to interact in an informal setting in the spirit of advancing regional integration through health improvement.
Specifically, they were to (1) Review the major challenges in health in the region; (2) Agree thematic areas for WAHO to focus on; (3) Provide guidance to WAHO on best approaches for working together towards regional integration; and (4) Agree regional position in preparation for the 2019 World Health Assembly of WHO.
In Aburi, seven (7) Ministers of Health from Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, The Gambia, Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Togo in addition to the host Minister (Ghana) were in attendance. Seven countries were represented by High Officials of the Ministry of Health. Only Guiné-Bissau was not represented.
In attendance was also the Regional Director the World Health Organization Regional Office for Africa (WHO-AFRO), Dr Matshidiso Rebecca Moeti.
WAHO’s delegation was led by its Director General and comprised Directors and Professional Officers.
The Opening Ceremony was chaired by Dr Abdullahi Abdulaziz, Permanent Secretary of the Federal Ministry of Health of Nigeria.
In his keynote address, the Honorable Minister for Health of Ghana, Mr Kwaku Agyemang-Manu underscored the relevance of the retreat in that, it offered an opportunity for them the Ministers for Health of ECOWAS member States and health experts to deliberate and provide guidance to WAHO on priority areas. The underlying purpose is to ensure “an effective coordinated approach to regional health matters for better outcomes for our people”, he noted.
The Minister also tasked WAHO to show leadership in the region.
Highlights of the retreat include:
One key achievement or unique experience of each Member State and WAHO: The key achievements included the involvement of the private sector in the management of health facilities under a PPP arrangement; reduction of maternal or child mortality (through the provision of logistics, infrastructure, blood supply, ambulance service, human capacity development, community engagement; task shifting with non-physicians performing caesarean section); increased health financing through the establishment of dedicated funds; regulatory of private medical practitioners with the focus of eliminating those providing inferior care; establishment of state-of-art medical stores; strengthening of surveillance system; piloting of anti-malaria vaccine; digitization of medical records to enable nationwide follow-up care, improving access to care through e-health; Universal Health Coverage (UHC) initiatives such as the provision of free medical care to under-fives, pregnant women and other vulnerable groups; provision of free family planning services.
State of health of the region: Presentation made by the WAHO DG and it covered seven priority areas: high maternal mortality, under-five mortality, malaria, epidemics, non-communicable diseases (NCDs), medicines and vaccines, and health financing. The WAHO DG described where the region is in terms of each of these areas; what the regional priorities are and how to work together to implement them.
Presentation of Ampadu Delivery Chair – alternative birthing position delivery chair: The Ministers commended its inventor, Mrs. Ampadu of Ghana and encouraged her to strive to improve it. The chair has been patented and recognized by several international organizations including WHO and WAHO. The Hon. Minister for Health of Ghana called for a resolution to empower WAHO to order a number of chairs to distribute to ECOWAS countries. Some countries also expressed interest in buying the chair.
Message of support from WHO-AFRO Regional Director: The Regional Director of WHO-AFRO commended the WAHO DG for his innovative idea to bring together the Ministers of Health of ECOWAS Member States at a Retreat in an informal setting to discuss the health situation of the region. She noted the common health problems in the region, commended the cross-border approach suggesting its institutionalization in the border districts; emphasized the need for a multisectoral approach, highlighted UHC as the bedrock of health interventions and called for engagement of Health and Finance Ministers to discuss ways of improving health financing.
Group works by the Ministers on the health priorities in the region: The Ministers noted the importance of the following topics in addition to the priority areas presented by the WAHO DG. These are: health information, disease control (HIV, TB), health of older adults, nutrition, substance abuse, mental disorders, healthcare in emergencies situation, water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), quality of healthcare, injuries and violence, regulation of medical practice, eye health, and oral health.
Leadership and governance; regional regulation such as the registration of medicines, food products; cross-border cooperation, maintenance, e-health, capacity building (for example, of biomedical engineers) and sharing of best practices, also emerged as cross-cutting themes.
Group works by the Ministers on how to implement the identified health priorities in the region: The retreat highlighted the importance of strengthening community-based services, placing health workers close to communities, increasing health financing, reducing financial barriers through provision of exemptions, health promotion, social mobilization and advocacy, improved regulation of food products and medical practice and providing centres of excellence.
A closed session was later held by the Ministers to discuss on the strategy to adopt for the upcoming WHO World Health Assembly.
In terms of the next steps, the WAHO DG indicated that WAHO will work on the identified priorities and present them at the next Assembly of ECOWAS Health Ministers (AHM).
The 2019 ECOWAS Ministers of Health Retreat ended on a happy note with a dinner.