Comment: Our leaders must keep their word

Over the years, I've continually learned the value of keeping promises. As a musician and a businesswoman, I would lose the loyalty and trust of my fans and colleagues without ­following through on my promises to perform, speak and release new music. 

When pledges aren't kept, progress stops and trust is lost. These are truths that apply to us all, including our leaders. 

I remember the hope I felt in 2001, when African leaders met in Abuja, Nigeria, and each pledged to take measures to halt the spread of HIV, tuberculosis and malaria, in addition to increasing their country's funding for health to at least 15% of their annual budget. 

I saw it as a turning point in Africa's history – a point where our continent would be able to emerge from decades of watching the potential of our citizens, communities and countries be stunted by disease. 

But pledges don't pay doctors, nurses or community workers, they don't buy medicine, and they don't keep the lights running in our hospitals. 

In July, our leaders will once again gather in Abuja to review ­progress made on HIV, TB and malaria, and to discuss the state of the ­continent's health. 

We, of the Princess of Africa Foundation and the Africa Regional Civil Society Platform on Health, raise our voices and call on our African leaders to prioritise good governance, collaboration and harmonisation of efforts toward implementing the Accelerated Road Map on Shared Responsibility and Global Solidarity for Aids, TB and Malaria responses in Africa. 

Furthermore, we urge each country to develop health financing plans that lead toward ensuring universal access to quality healthcare. We hope that, as Africa's health reaches a critical crossroad, our leaders use this opportunity to follow through on their commitments with concrete action and plans for the future, which include effective monitoring of the implementation at country level.

There has undoubtedly been progress. A handful of African countries have reached the 15% target, and 27 African countries have increased their domestic investment in health. The United Nations millennium development goals (MDGs) have catalysed improvements on development across countries. Owing to international investment channelled through the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria, we are now at a point where we can see the end of all three diseases. 

But within this story of progress, it is intolerable that many of our communities are still left behind. 

Over the past six years, I've traversed our continent as a UN ambassador and humanitarian, meeting brave patients, heroic healthcare workers and visionary health activists. But few experiences affected me like my trip to Sierra Leone in 2009. Sierra Leone has the world's third highest maternal mortality rate. Sitting there with women and listening to their grief over friends, mothers, sisters and daughters lost to preventable and treatable diseases convinced me we cannot lose resolve.

Africa is still behind on reaching the MDGs related to improving maternal health and reducing child mortality, and our progress on MDG goal six – fighting HIV and Aids, TB, malaria and other diseases – is uncertain as the Global Fund seeks to raise $15-billion to continue its work for the next three years. 

Although international donors should be commended for coming forward to fund the Global Fund, our own leaders must follow through on their health pledges. Each country must scale up its support for health by going beyond the 15% commitment to implementing innovative financing mechanisms,  investing in infrastructure and human resources needed to strengthen health systems, while also putting in place policies to ensure all Africans, no matter where they live, can access affordable and effective healthcare.

There will always be people who say: "We can't afford it." But you can't argue with evidence that a healthy population is key to long-term economic development.  Consider the economic costs of falling backwards: if resources dry up, the cost of putting out the flares of resurgent epidemics such as malaria or tuberculosis will far exceed investment needed today. 

Leaders can no longer look back on the 2001 Abuja Declaration and pat themselves on the back. They can only look forward to the work that must be done, and turn pledges and promises into action. 

Our leaders today will write the history of tomorrow, and they must keep the trust of us, the citizens who elected them to power. It's not just promises that are at stake – so are our lives. We must all remain vigilant to ensure our leaders fulfil their health promises.

Yvonne Chaka Chaka is the president of the Princess of Africa Foundation, an ambassador for the Roll Back Malaria campaign, a Unicef goodwill ambassador and the Millennium Development Goals envoy for Africa. 

This article is made possible by the Princess of Africa Foundation and the Africa Regional Civil Society Platform on Health. For information, email [email protected]­



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Yvonne Chaka Chaka
Yvonne Chaka Chaka works from Johannesburg, South Africa. Official Twitter feed of South African singer and humanitarian Yvonne Chaka Chaka. Yvonne Chaka Chaka has over 1584 followers on Twitter.

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