WHO regional conference opens in Togo

By Abigirl Tembo, Health Editor

The 72nd session of the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Committee for Africa has opened in the Togolese capital, Lome’.

The region’s foremost public health gathering held annually was officially opened by President of the Republic of Togo, His Excellency President Faure Essozimna Gnassingbé this Monday.

The five-day meeting, which will run until the 26th of August, is the first to be held in-person since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has had a negative impact on health service provision across the African region.

The host country Togo, a leader in the region on innovative ways to respond to health problems, is the first country in the world to be recognised by WHO for eliminating four neglected tropical diseases: lymphatic filariasis (commonly known as elephantiasis), human African trypanosomiasis, or sleeping sickness, trachoma – an eye infection that can cause irreversible blindness – and Guinea worm.

For it’s effort in the fight against the diseases, WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus handed Togolese President Gnassingbé a certificate.

In his acceptance speech, President Gnassingbé challenged other African countries to confront the health challenges faced by the continent.

“I thank you for the appreciation shown for my country for the achievement in eliminating the neglected tropical diseases. In Africa, like everywhere else in the world, we must confront the ongoing (health) challenges, but more so act, act to guarantee access to quality health care for all, everywhere and at all times. Act to provide social protection and universal health coverage to all citizens, and act to put an end to counterfeit and poor-quality medicines. Clearly, we have much to do.”

The African region is also battling other health challenges triggered by outbreaks of communicable diseases, humanitarian crises, climatic shocks as well as the rising burden of chronic disease such as cancer and diabetes.

“We are calling on all member states to make an urgent paradigm shift towards promoting health and well-being and preventing disease by addressing its root causes and creating the conditions for health to thrive,” said Dr Ghebreyesus.

African health ministers and government representatives at the meeting are expected to discuss and agree on measures to lower the burden of diseases and endorse strategies to promote access to health services.