By: Fitsum Lakew and Angela Muathe , WACI Health

On 24 February, WACI Wealth mobilized members of the Africa Civil Society Platform for Health (CISPHA) for a discussion on the AU -EU Strategy which focused on the health pillar. CISPHA is working to increase and sustain advocacy to hold AU member states accountable especially on the outcomes of the Africa Leaders Meeting on Health, the AU-EU relations and TICAD. CISPHA’s engagement is primarily in participation in the AU technical working group and the communications and advocacy committee of AIDS Watch Africa (AWA).

The Joint AU-EU Strategy is the first long-term framework for relations between the AU and EU. It sets out the intention of both continents to move beyond a donor/recipient relationship towards long-term cooperation on jointly identified mutual and complementary interests. The conversations organized by WACI Health in collaboration with GHA France focused on health. Broadly, the framework for relations focuses on peace and stability; migration; democracy and good governance; economic development; human development (which includes health, education and nutrition), and climate change.

There are plans to have an EU AU leaders’ summit at a later date. In readiness for the summit, European and African civil societies are working on a joint paper on the urgent long-term health needs for Africa and how COVID-19 has made these needs even more critical. The meaningful inclusion of civil society in the AU-EU strategy is important as it brings forth the voices of communities.

The joint civil society paper aims to highlight the health concerns of Africa and will focus on the health pillar to inform the roadmap towards achieving the desired long-term health outcomes. Discussions highlighted the need to include in the joint paper health systems strengthening as a major need for desired health outcomes in Africa at a time when COVID-19 has devastated the already fragile health systems. There was an additional observation that community health systems are not optimized to support the pandemic. Rural communities, key populations and urban poor are still not adequately reached due to weak community health systems.

Other key considerations for inclusion in the joint paper are human resources for health, skills for health personnel, adequate remuneration and personal protection of personnel as well as health infrastructure. In addition, the joint paper will address the need to address the health issues of communities which have been criminalized in some countries such as sex workers and drug users. Also important for inclusion in the joint paper are the needs of adolescent girls and young women who are disproportionately affected and exposed to challenges such as HIV. The need for services that meet their specific needs must be emphasized.

Further, the joint paper is addressing NGO laws that restrict the operations of civil society such as in countries where it would be difficult to register some organizations such as those of sex workers resulting in their voices not being heard and their needs not being met because of who they are. Another key consideration for the joint paper is community systems strengthening to increase reach to rural and urban poor communities who still hardly have access to health services and to inform and enhance Africa’s plan to have 30% of health services given by community health workers by the year 2030.

There has been emphasis that the AU-EU partnership should be grounded on principles of mutual trust and must align to the outcomes to existing policy frameworks in Africa such as agenda 2063, the African health strategy, the catalytic framework to end HIV/AIDS, TB and eliminate Malaria and the sexual and reproductive health framework. Most importantly, there must be emphasis on a human rights and gender.

The joint paper should address the existing limited linkages of health with other programs such as human rights, education, environment and climate change as these are also determinants of health. This will ensure that the overall strategy enhances active interaction of health with other sectors that are determinants of health.