02 April 2014 - Abuja/Geneva - African Union finance ministers came together last week to discuss ways to push industrialisation in the continent, but failed to underscore the need for increased investments in health to address challenges such as tuberculosis.
The theme for the Conference of African Ministers of Finance, Planning and Economic Development held in Abuja, Nigeria during 25-30 March, was on building credible institutions to boost industrialisation. But ministers shied away from mentioning or making any commitments on health spending.
There is a strong economic case for investment in health particularly in Africa where the average life expectancy in Africa is 54.4 years, the lowest globally. For every year that life expectancy rises across the continent, GDP will increase by 4%, according to a report released in 2013.
This was a key meeting for the Africa Union (AU) and Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) in the lead up to the close of the Millennium Development Goals in 2015, and in the context of an agreement for a new set of Post 2015 development goals.
The Stop TB Partnership and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria called for increased investments into tuberculosis and other health priorities at the conference. The Partnership joined other organizations, including the Global Fund to appeal to Finance Ministers to make reference to the need for increased sustainable domestic financing in a resolution outlining their priorities for the goals Post 2015.
Stop TB and its partners also asked Ministers of Finance to reaffirm the commitments made by African Heads of State to devote 15% of their budgets to health - a commitment first made in 2001 in Abuja. Only Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Rwanda, Togo and Zambia have met the target.
According to estimates by UNAIDS, nearly $31 billion per year will be needed to meet the continent's 15% health funding targets. This need is dire especially because Africa is the only region in the world which is not on track towards of achieving a 50% reduction in TB deaths by 2015. The WHO estimates that nearly 25% of the total TB burden is accounted for by Africa. And as much as 40% of all cases are missed.
In her keynote address, H. E. Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of Liberia and Chair of the High-Level Committee (HLC), on "Common African Position (CAP) on the Post-2015 Development Agenda", said that the CAP aims at re-orienting the development paradigm away from externally-driven initiatives toward domestically-inspired and funded initiatives. She said, "...Africa is committed to remain focused on pertinent development issues by completing the unfinished MDG business by focusing on the quality aspect of service delivery in the areas of education and health; and by responding to the social and economic consequences of Africa's changing demographic structure..."
Lucica Ditiu, Executive Secretary of the Stop TB Partnership said, "Africa is one of the fastest growing continents today. Economic growth is important, but it will be difficult to support high quality growth without sustained investments in health, especially to combat big killers like TB. We hope that public health spending becomes a priority for finance ministers across Africa."
Last year, African countries including Nigeria, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Malawi and Cote d’Ivoire, made pledges to the Global Fund to fight AIDS, TB and malaria.
"We need shared responsibility to defeat TB and other diseases," said Mark Dybul, Executive Director of the Global Fund. "If we look beyond today, we know we can achieve greater impact by investing with a partnership approach that maximizes every available resource."