By Ben Nwanne
The Vice-Chancellor of Delta State University Abraka, Professor Andy Egwunyenga has stressed the need for political leaders in Nigeria and Africa at large, to muster the political will to decisively confront the neglected tropical diseases (NTDs).
Prof. Egwunyenga was giving a keynote address entitled ‘’Political Will Towards Disease Control: The African Experience’’ yesterday at the 46th Conference of the Parasitology and Public and Health Society of Nigeria (PPSN) held at the University.
The four-day gathering, with the theme ‘’Political will towards disease control – The African Experience’’ attracted some of the best brains in that area of study in the country to include members of the Board of Trustees (BOT) Professor Ekanem Braide, Oladele Kale, Martins Ogbe, Chinedu Mafiana, Oladele Akogun, Betram Nwoke, Martins Aisien, Rowland Agbede, Margaret Mafe and Abubakar Jijiwa, among others.
Professor Egwunyenga, while recalling his inaugural lecture years ago, bemoaned the fact that the burden of tropical diseases was heavy in Africa, with far fewer resources where mass poverty, high fertility rate, slow economic growth, deforestation, rapid urbanization and increased migration, wars and natural disasters had contributed to increased transmission and distribution of diseases.
He noted that tropical parasites shortened lives, reduced the ability to work or attend school, and imposed a lifelong burden on Africa’s potential for development, adding that the consequences of parasitic infections were very devastating in terms of human sickness and deaths as well as agriculture and animal grazing.
Professor Egwunyenga, a former Rector of Delta State Polytechnic, Ogwashi-Uku, noted that the resolutions from the conference would offer new initiatives for innovative action for disease control in Africa, adding that ‘’it appears that the political commitment may be lacking’’.
He described the expression ‘‘political will’’ to mean the commitment of actors to undertake actions to achieve a set of objectives……and to sustain the cost of these actions over time’’.
He regretted the absence of political will in the crusade against the spread of diseases, citing the Abuja Declaration (2001) and other occasions where heads of states and governments of the organization of African Union (OAU), later African Union (AU), gathered from April 26-27, 2001 to address the exceptional challenges of HIV/AIDs, Tuberculosis and other related infectious diseases.
He stated that the outcome was the famous Abuja declaration, which in part, read, ‘’We commit ourselves to take all necessary measures to ensure that needed resources are made available from all sources and that they are efficiently and effectively utilized. In addition, we pledge to set a target of allocating at least 15% of our annual budget to the implementation of the health sector’’.
He regretted that despite the lofty proclamation emanating from Abuja, many African countries have been unable to attain the target freely decided by the leaders.
Professor Egwunyenga, who is giving DELSU an enlightened and committed leadership painted a gloomy picture of Africa’s disease burden.
According to him, with a population of 1.34 billion, Africa represents 16% of the world’s population of 7.9 billion but carries 25% of the world’s disease burden.
“Extreme poverty continues to drive increased burden of disease in Africa. Out of 736 Million people who lived on 1.90 a day in 2015, more than 413 million were from Sub-Saharan Africa. In spite of this, World Health Organization (WHO) estimates indicate that Africa share of global health expenditure is less than 1% leaving more than half of its population without access ton essential health services’’.
In order to mitigate the poor health care indices in Africa, Prof. Egwunyenga has recommended that African governments should focus and prioritize health care and disease control by attracting more funding investments and new partnerships globally like it was done during Covid-19 pandemic, must take responsibility and ‘own’ the disease control programmes through direct funding and budgetary allocations. He further suggested that African governments needed to incorporate technology through digital platforms for disease surveillance, monitoring, education and programme implementation, adding that political leaders in Africa must confront increasing brain drain in the health sector.
Speaking at the occasion, the President of the PPSN, Professor Sammy Sam-Wobo described the gathering as ‘earth shattering’.
He explained that despite being in office for just one year, the EXCO had done so much including the global visibility and digitalization of the Society, adding that the PPSN scholars had done well locally and globally. He stated that a new constitution for the PPSN is ready for ratification in view of the 50 years anniversary coming up next year.
Other top speakers at the well attended event were Professor Ikechukwu Dozie, Vice-Chancellor of Kingsley Ozumba Mbaduwe University, Mgboku, Imo State who spoke on the Nigeria Case Study in NTD Control while Professor Chinyere Ukaga, Director of Academic Planning, Imo State University, Owerri spoke on ‘’Agenda 2030 : Eliminating NTDs in Africa’’.
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