The First Pan African Health Congress on Universal Coverage opened in Accra on Tuesday with an acknowledgment of the solutions that African health experts have been providing in addressing health financial challenges facing the continent.
One such solution is the innovative health financing programmes which focuses on social health insurance that are currently been implemented in some Africa countries.
Different modules of health insurance such as those based on contributions from members, tax based systems and social security contributions were gradually gaining grounds in Africa where there was skepticism that it could be implemented.
The three day congress is hosted by Centre for Health & Social Services (CHeSS), and is supported by the Rockefeller Foundation and World Health Organisation.
The Congress will initiate dialogue between government ministers, insurance schemes in Africa and also discuss best ways to initiate and sustain long term health insurance schemes across Africa.
Vice President John Dramani Mahama told participants that continent has been presented with a unique opportunity to give meaning to equity in health.
According to him, the congress would set the stage for a positive movement towards addressing the issue of universal coverage in the sub-Saharan Africa and developing world at large.
He said though countries like Ghana were making progress in health insurance, there were still challenges of many people with chronic conditions and life threatening degenerative diseases having to look else were to facilitate their access to care.
The challenges notwithstanding, he noted, it was the wish of every government to provide access and financial risk protection as a policy goal within the context of universal coverage.
“This was in recognition of how critical health care was to the economy and social cohesiveness for governments which profess social justice and equity.”
According to the Vice President Mahama, the reality however was that those resources continue to fall short of government aspirations.
“Government of Ghana therefore took the bold step to introduce a national health insurance scheme as a way of removing financial barriers to access in Ghana and it has received mixed reports of commendations and criticisms”, he said.
He admitted that the success story was without its challenges and that there was a lot to learn and therefore tasked the congress to develop a clear technical framework that pulls together all the existing resolution, declaration and commitment that were meant to move the agenda of universal health coverage into an implementable action plan.
Dr Anarfi Asamaoa-Baah, Deputy director General of WHO, said health insurance was a unique intervention to facilitate access to health services and not about diseases or the ministers of health.
Health insurance, he noted, therefore requires new skills within the health sectors, which includes economists, financial investment experts, lawyers and strategic managers who can think through and develop the system effectively.
The WHO is open to these ideas including the participation of academia to partner with government to achieve universal coverage.
He also acknowledge the fact that Africa has the expertise and that what was needed was to leverage it and partner with international development partners to achieve the goal of universal coverage
Congress Director Dr. Tony Seddoh, said most countries sub Saharan Africa may not achieve health MDGs and quoted from Mid-term Report of the UN 2010 which states that global leaders were beginning to be selective about which African state can be supported to accelerate progress.
This, he said, creates a dilemma for Africa experts to find Africa solutions and proven intervention that can leverage support of all countries to rapidly scale up health investment to achieve the MDGs.
The purpose of the congress was therefore to generate dialogue among Africa policies makers, researchers and consultants to find a common platform to pull together their expertise to support countries in the sub region.
He said it was expected that a movement for universal health coverage in health in Africa (Match in Africa) would be created to sustain regional effort in the long term