The World Health Organisation (WHO) has urged African leaders to take seriously issues of access to essential medicines and health technologies in order to improve the health system in the continent.
Dr Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO Regional Director for Africa, made the appeal in a statement in Abuja on Tuesday.
She said that the region still carried 25 per cent of the world’s disease burden but consumed less than one per cent of global health expenditure.
Moeti attributed this to insufficient access to quality medicines and high price of drugs, noting that without concerted efforts to tackle the problem, achieving universal health coverage in the region would not be possible.
She said that more work needed to be done in the areas of medicine governance, lack of infrastructure and resources and insufficient technical capacity.
Moeti said currently, one third of Africans did not have regular access to the medicines they needed.
Dr Suzanne Hill, the WHO Director for Essential Medicines and Health Products, said in the statement that many essential medicines were missing from pharmacy shelves especially in rural areas.
According to Hill, there are problems of substandard and falsified medicines entering distribution chains; many households often go without other necessities in order to pay for medicines and health care.
“We need our countries to set up stronger health systems and ensure that all communities are accessing the medicines and health technologies they need, when they need them, at an affordable price and at the right quality standard.
“Basically, we need African governments to take seriously issues of access to essential medicines and health technologies and invest time and resources into these programmes and we need technical and financial support.
“A five year project to increase access to medicines in 15 African countries ends this month with some important achievements but also many challenges ahead.
“This project brought about many improvements such as greater availability to child-friendly medicines particularly for HIV, TB and malaria, faster registration for some vital medicines in countries and progress towards universal health coverage.
“With the project coming to an end, the project partners will meet in Zanzibar from 19 to 21 September to take stock of achievements and devise a way forward,” Moeti said.
She said the five-year project, focused on strengthening pharmaceutical systems in Africa by achieving improved availability and supply of essential medicines in national, regional and community health facilities.
It also sought to achieve lower medicine prices and improved mechanisms for financing and for coverage of essential medicines in social protection schemes.
The WHO regional director said the project also aimed to improve quality and safety of medicines, reduced occurrence of substandard medicines and medicines that pose health risks.
Other objectives of the project included improved medicines selection, prescribing, dispensing and use, improved access to reliable information on countries’ pharmaceutical policies and practices.
Moeti said the project also aimed to achieve enhanced transparency and good governance of the pharmaceutical system in the countries.