/ 14 December 2012

Working together for a healthier Africa

Working Together For A Healthier Africa

Public-private partnerships play a crucial role in strengthening the healthcare systems in resource-deprived regions of Africa because they assist with the delivery of much needed services, and drive training and quality assurance.

Sub-Saharan Africa is the most heavily affected region in the global burden of diseases, most notably tuberculosis and HIV/Aids. The continent bears 24% of the world's disease volume, but has only 3% of the world's health workforce and less than 1% of the world's financial resources for health. In 2011 an estimated 23.5-million people in sub-Saharan Africa were infected with HIV. South Africa carries the largest burden — approximately 5.6-million of its people are HIV positive.

Strong and reliable national public health laboratory systems are vital for responding effectively to HIV and other communicable diseases. They are also crucial for the rapid detection and control of outbreaks and emerging global public health threats. On its own, Africa is not in a financial position to turn its dire health situation around.

The continent relies on partnerships and collaborations with international donors from the public and private sector. Co-operating closely with the ministries of health in the respective countries, donors work towards achieving sustainable models that stimulate health infrastructure development, knowledge sharing, skills transfer and capacity building.

In November, United States Secretary of State Hilary Clinton released a blueprint strategy outlining the actions necessary to achieve an Aids-free generation. The document provides a road map for shared responsibility. It highlighted the importance of political will and the effective coordination of multiple partners to finance and conduct interventions, bith within and outside of the health sector.Behind many of the international health programmes implemented in Africa is the US centers for disease control and prevention (CDC), America's premier public health agency.

The agency is globally recognised for conducting research and investigations, and for its action-oriented approach to prevent and control infectious and chronic diseases, injuries, workplace hazards, disabilities and environmental health threats.

CDC South Africa country director Nancy Knight said that the organisation always seeks the support of national leadership in host countries and creates programmes that are country-owned, sustainable and address local needs.

Many CDC programmes operate with funds from the US president's emergency plan for Aids relief (PEPFAR), a US government initiative to support partner nations around the world in responding to HIV/Aids. Launched in 2003, the relief plan has committed $46-billion to bilateral HIV/Aids programmes, to the global fund to fight HIV/Aids, tuberculosis and malaria and to bilateral tuberculosis programmes.

The most recent public-private partnership was announced at the ASLM conference early this month. It is a collaboration with Roche Diagnostics to improve the capacity of laboratorians and strengthen laboratory systems in African nations highly impacted by HIV/Aids.

Valued at $10-million over five years, the partnership builds institutional capacity of regional and national partners by developing certification programmes for laboratory technicians, strengthening pre-service curricula, and institutionalising quality improvement in diagnostic services. The PEPFAR contribution to the joint effort will be implemented through CDC.

The director of CDC's division of global HIV/Aids in the CDC centre for global health (CGH), Dr Debbie Birx, said the partnership will strengthen laboratories through training and an emphasis on the importance of accurate diagnoses.

"Quality of diagnosis is crucial. Training raises the awareness that the gateway to lifesaving health services at every level is dependent on the laboratory," said Birx.