In most African countries’ healthcare facilities constructed during the colonial era are still being used to date. African leaders have never been eager to keep their hospitals well equipped and the healthcare workers well paid. This has led to the dilapidation of most health facilities across the continent, and the inevitable brain drain of medical professionals to western countries in search of a better income.
Before the outbreak of Covid-19, it was common practice for ailing African politicians and the wealthy elite abroad for medical treatment. Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe died in a hospital in Singapore, Cameroon’s Paul Biya is well known for regularly seeking treatment abroad and Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari was out of the country for several months in 2017 for treatment in London and has frequent medical checks abroad. The coronavirus has put African leaders in positions where they must seek medical treatment from hospitals they have neglected.
In 2001, 52 African leaders pledged at a meeting in Abuja (Nigeria) to spend 15% of their annual domestic budget on health. The World Health Organization (WHO) reported that only a few countries upheld this pledge. The countries include Tanzania, Rwanda, Botswana, and Zambia. Uganda spent 8.9% of its national budget on health in 2020 which was a downgrade from the 9.2% spent in 2019. Rwanda has shown one of the greatest commitments to healthcare on the continent. In 2017 WHO reported that Rwanda doubled its healthcare spending over 10 years. It also boasts of national health insurance coverage which is the highest on the continent. Brookings institute published a research paper which stated that although Africa bore 23% of the world’s disease burden in 2015. It accounted for only 1% of global health spending for the same year. In per capita terms, the researchers stated, “the rest of the world spends 10 times more on healthcare than Africa”.
The fallout from the outbreak is a wakeup call for African governments to prioritize healthcare. The Covid-19 pandemic has forced African governments to prioritize healthcare. With current spending, most African governments will struggle to achieve Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.
The pandemic has exposed the poor standards of the health system in most of the African countries. The Central African Republic is reported that it has 3 ventilators for a population of up to five million.
The situation forced the Norwegian Refugee Council to warn that an outbreak of great magnitude in the small nation would make it incapacitated
As much as healthcare workers suffer a grave risk every day in handling Covid-19 cases the outbreak has helped fix a long-standing problem of underpayment. Most African nations including Ghana have doubled their healthcare workers’ salaries. In Zimbabwe, businessman Strive Masiyiwa came to the aid of the government by offering to pay the doctors through his foundation. This had come after months of striking and unsuccessful engagements between the government and the doctors. Africa suffers a great loss through the brain drain of medical experts and general healthcare service providers to countries like Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom amongst others.
In a 2010 PubMed publication, sub-Saharan Africa has a healthcare worker deficit of 2.4 million doctors and nurses. There were 2 doctors and 11 nursing/midwifery personnel per 10, 000 population compared to 19 doctors and 49 nursing/midwifery personnel for 10, 000 in the Americas. The loss of healthcare personnel is due to poor living conditions and low salaries. The Covid-19 outbreak has forced governments to review healthcare salaries and better equipping healthcare systems.
African leaders find themselves trapped in the healthcare systems that they neglected and at the mercy of healthcare workers that they underpay. The coronavirus has given much-needed attention to the dire state of healthcare systems across the continent. It is mostly due to poor leadership that the healthcare systems are in parlous states. It is ironic that despite the ills of colonialism most African countries at independence inherited excellent healthcare systems which are now in decrepit states.
Taxpayers money that is used by African politicians to travel abroad for medical checks can be redirected and invested in local healthcare facilities. African leaders should continue throughout the subsistence of the pandemic to upgrade their healthcare systems. The investment in a well-functioning healthcare system should be the norm even after the pandemic is over.