African Union Summit Focuses on Disease

Executive council meets in Nigerian capital to review progress made in combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis.

Zambia 2013

By Azad Essa

July 16, 2013

Also published at Al Jazeera

The African Union executive council is meeting in the Nigerian capital to take stock of progress made in the fight against HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.

The conference, which opened in Abuja on Friday, will also address challenges encountered in the campaign against the three diseases.

"It is timely that we review the implementation of the various declarations and plans of action adopted in the course of the last decade," Ethiopia's Foreign Minister Tedros Ghebreyesus told the conference, according to the African Union's website.

Ghebreyesus said Ethiopia was proposing to establish an "African Centre for Diseases Control and Prevention (African–CDC) or Health Commission for Africa under the umbrella of the African Union".

The centre, he said, will help carry out research and deal with major health problems on the African continent.

"Our achievement is indeed the result of strong country ownership and leadership, active community involvement, improved health system and unprecedented global support in creating access to and delivery of life saving services," he said.

Major diseases

Nurudeen Mohammed, Nigeria's foreign minister, said: "Today we have begun to write the final chapter of the history of Malaria. We have raised the hopes and expectations of our people - we must not let them down."

He added: "We cannot afford to let down. May malaria be rolled out and development rolled in all African countries."

Al Jazeera's Azad Essa, reporting from Zambia, which has made progress in combating AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, said: "African governments are being urged to dedicate more expenditure on health across the continent and though [AU] member states have previously committed to 15% of their budgets on health, only six countries on the continent have been able to implement this.

"Despite the purported efforts of the AU, most member states are lagging behind most goals, not least of which are the MDGs [Millennium Development Goals] which seek to reduce new HIV infections and malaria mortality by at least 50% by 2015." 

The summit will "adopt a set of actions to enhance the continent's response and efforts towards reversing the impact of these diseases by ensuring universal access to services and strengthened health systems", the AU said in a statement.

AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria are some of the major diseases afflicting the continent. Although health experts have focused attention on AIDS, malaria remains one of the major killer diseases in Africa.

Victims are mainly pregnant women and children because of their vulnerability.

The World Health Organisation's malaria report for 2012 said the disease was concentrated in 14 endemic countries, which accounted for an estimated 80% of malaria deaths.

It said the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Nigeria were the most affected countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

An estimated $5.1bn is needed every year between 2011 and 2020 to achieve universal access to malaria interventions in the 99 countries with on-going malaria transmission, the report added.

Azad Essa is reporting on HIV/AIDS, malaria, and TB in Zambia on a trip with the International Reporting Project (IRP).