June 11, 2024

Africa must strengthen disease surveillance, health economics – Ajayi

Africa must strengthen disease surveillance, health economics – Ajayi

By Elizabeth Osayande

The recent Lassa fever outbreak in Nigeria has ignited widespread discussions within Africa’s health community, highlighting the urgent need for robust disease surveillance and health economics systems.

This critical situation demands immediate attention and action, as experts warn that without significant improvements, the continent will continue to struggle with timely responses to health crises.

As of March 29, 2024, Nigeria was experiencing an escalating Lassa fever outbreak with 4,726 cases and 142 deaths. The worst affected states were Bauchi, Taraba, Edo, Ondo, Plateau, Benue, Cross River, Rivers, Anambra, and Ebonyi. The case fatality rate (CFR) of 18.5% was a concern, especially due to late diagnosis and reporting.

A prominent voice in addressing this concern is Olakunle Ajayi, a dedicated health economist and disease surveillance expert whose work exemplifies the essential strategies to effectively address these pressing challenges.

The Lassa fever outbreak underscores the ongoing struggle with disease surveillance in Africa. Despite numerous efforts, the continent still faces significant hurdles in detecting and managing disease outbreaks. This inadequacy often leads to delayed responses, exacerbating the impact of epidemics on already vulnerable populations.

“Effective disease surveillance is the cornerstone of a resilient health system,” says Ajayi, a seasoned health economist with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Atlanta, USA.

“Without timely data and robust systems, our response to outbreaks will always be reactive rather than proactive.”

Ajayi’s rich experience in health economics and disease surveillance provides invaluable insights into how these systems can be strengthened.

His work has shown that integrating comprehensive data analysis with strategic planning is crucial in creating responsive and resilient health systems.

Health economics plays a vital role in ensuring that limited resources are used effectively to achieve the greatest possible impact on public health.

In Africa, where healthcare funding is often insufficient, the application of economic principles to healthcare decision-making can lead to significant improvements in service delivery and outcomes.

Ajayi’s career is a testament to the power of health economics. His work at the CDC involves managing a diverse portfolio of health research grants, ensuring that investments are strategically allocated to maximize public health benefits.

By using econometric modeling to guide the development and execution of health research initiatives, Ajayi helps ensure that resources are used efficiently and that health interventions are both effective and sustainable.

“Health economics allows us to see beyond immediate costs,” Ajayi explains. “It helps us understand the long-term benefits of investing in public health and how to allocate resources to achieve the best outcomes.”

Effective disease surveillance systems are essential for early detection and control of infectious diseases. In many African countries, however, these systems are underdeveloped, leading to delayed responses and higher mortality rates during outbreaks.

Improving these systems requires a multifaceted approach, combining technological advancements, capacity building, and strategic policy development.

Ajayi has co-led efforts to enhance disease surveillance across sub-Saharan Africa in various organization in Nigeria. His work involved developing and implementing health economic models that informed policy decisions and improved the allocation of resources.

By integrating sound statistical and economic analyses into broader disease surveillance strategies, Ajayi helped build more robust and responsive health systems.

“By leveraging data and evidence, we can make informed decisions that not only respond to current health crises but also prevent future ones,” says Ajayi.

His innovative approaches and data-driven strategies have been pivotal in enhancing disease surveillance and improving public health outcomes.

Data-driven decision-making is a cornerstone of effective health economics and disease surveillance. Accurate and timely data allows health officials to monitor disease trends, evaluate the impact of interventions, and make informed policy decisions.

However, in many parts of Africa, data collection and analysis remain significant challenges.

Ajayi’s innovative approach to data integration exemplifies how these challenges can be overcome. By establishing a Data Intelligence Unit, Ajayi has created a central repository for decision-making, integrating data from various sources to optimize public health interventions in one of the foremost establishments in Africa.

This unit’s work has been instrumental in improving vaccine delivery and managing disease outbreaks in regions affected by conflict and instability.

“Data is the lifeblood of modern public health,” Ajayi asserts. “Without it, we are navigating in the dark. Accurate data helps us understand the landscape and tailor our interventions to be more effective.”

Addressing the health challenges in Africa requires not only technical expertise but also strong advocacy for policy change and increased investment.

Health economists and surveillance experts like Ajayi play a crucial role in this advocacy, using their expertise to inform and influence policymakers.
Ajayi’s work underscores the importance of evidence-based advocacy.

His contributions to the development of multi-year grants and investment plans at the CDC and other establishments he has worked have highlighted the need for sustained investment in health systems.

By demonstrating the cost-effectiveness and impact of health interventions, Ajayi has helped secure funding and support for critical public health initiatives.

“Policymakers need to see the value of investing in health systems,” Ajayi emphasizes. “Our job is to provide the evidence and make a compelling case for why these investments are essential for the well-being of our populations.”

As Africa continues to confront complex health challenges, there is an urgent need for strengthened health economics and disease surveillance systems.

The recent Lassa fever outbreak has shown that timely detection and response are crucial to mitigating the impact of infectious diseases. To achieve this, African countries must invest in building robust surveillance systems, improving data collection and analysis, and applying health economic principles to resource allocation.

Ajayi’s work provides a blueprint for these efforts. His experience in managing health research portfolios, developing economic models, and integrating data-driven strategies into public health initiatives offers valuable lessons for policymakers and health professionals across the continent.

The health challenges facing Africa are daunting, but they are not insurmountable. By leveraging the expertise of health economists and surveillance experts like Ajayi, African countries can build stronger, more resilient health systems.

These efforts will require sustained investment, innovative thinking, and a commitment to data-driven decision-making. As the continent moves forward, the insights and strategies developed by professionals like Ajayi will be crucial in ensuring a healthier and more secure future for all Africans.

“Ultimately, our goal is to create a health system that can withstand the pressures of disease outbreaks and provide quality care for all,” says Ajayi. “With the right investments and strategies, I believe we can achieve this vision.”