“Investing in Universal Health Coverage is one of the smartest investments a country can make,” said Dr Gashumba. “In the past two decades, African countries have displayed commendable leadership in furthering the UHC agenda across the continent. We must ensure that this movement is sustained through greater domestic investments in health care and that all ministries and stakeholders do their part.”

The conference, co-hosted by Amref Health Africa and Rwanda’s Ministry of Health, has brought together over 1,200 participants from more than 35 countries, including health ministers, private sector leaders, civil society and representatives from multilateral organisations, to chart a roadmap to achieve UHC across Africa by 2030.

A view of the stage at the Africa Health Agenda International Conference 2019 (Africa Health 2019) in Kigali, Rwanda
Amref
A view of the stage at the Africa Health Agenda International Conference 2019 (Africa Health 2019) in Kigali, Rwanda

Speakers at the opening ceremony included Dr Diane Gashumba, Minister of Health of Rwanda; Dr Githinji Gitahi, Group CEO, Amref Health Africa; Dr Ian Askew, Director of the Department of Reproductive Health and Research, World Health Organization; and Dr Humphrey Karamagi, SDG Coordinator and Health Information Team Leader, World Health Organization Africa Regional Office.

“Health is the most fundamental human right on which all other rights can be enjoyed. Universal health coverage is its guarantee,” said Dr Githinji Gitahi, Group CEO at Amref Health Africa. “Globally, there is growing consensus on the need to universalise access to quality health care – both as a path to economic development and because it is the right thing to do. Going forward, we need to galvanise political will at the highest levels of government, mobilise greater resources to eliminate catastrophic health costs, and invest in community-led interventions.”

Dr Githinji Gitahi, Group CEO, Amref Health Africa
Amref
Dr Githinji Gitahi, Group CEO, Amref Health Africa

Speakers highlighted the urgency of accelerating efforts to reach UHC in African countries, including the need for increased domestic financing and greater political prioritisation of UHC, as well as effective public-private partnerships to share learnings, leverage innovative technologies and scale evidence-based, cost-effective solutions to improve health outcomes.

Many of the speakers noted Rwanda’s commitment to expanding health coverage through its near-universal health care system, as well as its investments in strengthening primary health care and the community health workforce, which have been instrumental in driving improvements in health outcomes and promoting health equity. Rwanda has made impressive progress in the past two decades, and its nationwide community-based health insurance model covers nearly 90% of all Rwandans today, including the poorest of the poor.

While significant progress has been made in the past two decades to improve access to quality health care across Africa, critical challenges remain. Out-of-pocket expenditure has increased in nearly all countries, and the regional average has increased from $15 per capita in 1995 to $38 in 2014. As a result, 11 million Africans are falling into poverty every year due to high out-of-pocket payments. In 2001, through the Abuja Declaration, African governments had committed to increasing their health spending to 15% of their annual budget; however, only six countries have achieved or surpassed the target.

The 3-day conference, from 5-7 March 2019, consists of scientific tracks, roundtables, interactive workshops, and high-level symposia on tuberculosis, malaria and health in fragile and conflict-affected states, among others. In the days ahead, programme highlights will include plenaries on how to finance UHC and increase access and quality of health services; presentations on technological innovations that are rapidly changing the face of the sector; the launch of a new initiative advocating for gender equality in health leadership in Africa; and more.

A view of the audience at the Africa Health Agenda International Conference 2019 (Africa Health 2019) in Kigali, Rwanda
Amref
A view of the audience at the Africa Health Agenda International Conference 2019 (Africa Health 2019) in Kigali, Rwanda

In September 2019, the UN General Assembly will hold the first-ever UN High-Level Meeting on universal health coverage. The General Assembly is expected to galvanise global commitment to UHC by voting on a historic political declaration in support of health for all. In the run-up to the High-Level Meeting on UHC, Africa Health 2019 will serve as a platform where participants from across the African continent can make their voices heard and contribute their perspectives to the forthcoming declaration on UHC.