Top 10 Health News in Africa in 2019
2019 has been an eventful year in healthcare globally, with breakthroughs such as a new and improved diagnostic test for breast cancer, novel gene therapy for sickle cell disease, and launch of the new global influenza strategy by the World Health Organization (WHO). Africa, faced with the world’s most dramatic health challenges, made considerable strides in healthcare this year, reflecting the progress the continent is making in revitalizing its health systems.
As the year winds down, we take a look at the top ten news in healthcare out of Africa in 2019:
1. Effective Ebola Treatment Found in Uganda
This came as one of the biggest news in healthcare this year in Africa. In August, two people with Ebola were cured after they were treated with new drugs in Goma, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in a randomized clinical trial that began late 2018. The drugs, known as REGN-EB3 and mAb114, produced better results than alternative treatment, beaming a ray of hope in the World’s second-largest Ebola epidemic ongoing in DRC.
The trial was led locally by Jean-Jacques Muyembe, the director-general of the Institut National de Recherche Biomedicale in DR Congo in partnership with the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).
2. Ugandan Builds App to Increase Access to HIV Prevention
Advancing the fight against HIV, Charles Brown, the Executive Director of Preventive Care International (PCI), an organization that advocates for innovative approaches to improve access to HIV prevention, developed a mobile application ‘PrEP Uganda.’ which provides information about all HIV Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) centers in the country.
Android users can download the app on Google Playstore and get access to the contact details of all the PrEP centers in Uganda. Brown noted that the app ensures patients are comfortable using the app as it requires no personal details before it can be used.
3. South African Med Students Develop Treatment-Compliance App
Earlier this month, two students of the University of KwaZulu-Natal Medical School presented to the WHO, a mobile application to help patients comply with their prescriptions. The app, which was among the top 10 innovations to tackle antimicrobial resistance, works by sending automated messages to remind patients of their drug dosage.
The students plan to implement this application in low and middle-income countries where there is widespread abuse of antibiotics.
4. WHO Prequalifies Ebola Vaccine
On November 12 this year, the World Health Organization prequalified an Ebola vaccine for the first time, approving it for use in countries at high risk of Ebola outbreaks. Reports say this is the fastest prequalification ever conducted by the Organization.
Prequalification means that the vaccine has met the WHO standards for quality, efficacy, and safety, and implies that the vaccine can be made available to people in at-risk countries.
5. Nigeria Marks Three Years Without a Case of Wild Polio
In a major milestone in Nigeria’s Polio Eradication Programme, the country marked its third year with no case of the disease. The country is expected to submit its final data for evaluation come March next year before it can receive the ‘Wild Polio-Free’ certification mid next year.
In a press conference to mark the milestone, the Executive Director of the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), Dr. Faisal Shuaib noted that Nigeria was able to achieve this by strengthening its routine immunization measures to ensure hard-to-reach communities benefited from the vaccination campaign. However, these strategies have to be fortified to eliminate other forms of Polio in the region
Nigeria had its last case of Wild Polio in 2016.
6. Algeria Certified Malaria-Free
In May this year, Algeria, along with Argentina, was declared malaria-free by the WHO. The certification comes after achieving the requisite interruption of indigenous transmission of the disease for at least 3 consecutive years. Algeria is the second country in the WHO African region to be certified malaria-free – behind Mauritius – after reporting its last case in 2013.
To overcome hundreds of years of grappling with the disease, Algeria reinforced efforts to bringing the disease to a stop by providing free diagnoses and treatments and rapid response to malaria outbreaks in every part of the country.
7. Malaria Vaccine Pilot Launched in Malawi
In April this year, the Government of Malawi launched the world’s first malaria vaccine in a historic pilot program. The vaccine, known as RTS-S, was introduced in three African countries, including Ghana and Kenya, in steps to eliminate the disease from these regions.
In clinical trials, the vaccine has been shown to prevent malaria in 4 out of 10 cases, including 3 out of 10 cases of severe life-threatening malaria. The vaccine, which had been studied for more than three decades, is set to be a complementary malaria control measure, designed to be added with other WHO-recommended measures to control the disease.
8. Aviro Launches Whatsapp Channel for HIV Self-testing
Aviro Health, South Africa-based health tech company in partnership with Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute (Wits RHI) launched a WhatsApp channel as an add-on to their mobile application Ithaka to support users through their self-testing journey.
The channel offers users information and real-time consultation and counseling with HIV experts. The team says it sees newly tested patients through their treatment journey by creating a comfortable environment that encourages anonymity while seeking care.
9. WHO and AU Partner to Achieve Universal Health Coverage in Africa
In October this year, the World Health Organization and the African Union (AU) pledged to join actions toward achieving universal health coverage in the region. The collaboration is aimed at driving actions in three key areas: provision of high-quality, safe, and effective medicines; strengthening the African Center for Disease Control; and develop strong financial models to promote primary health initiative.
This pledge comes as a result of a recent agreement among AU countries, called the “Addis Ababa Call to Action” to boost investment in primary healthcare in the respective countries.
10. Germany Donates $128m for East Africa Healthcare
Early December 2019, the East African Community (EAC) secretariat signed an agreement worth $128m with the German government to boost integration and preparedness for pandemics and improve immunization coverage against Rotavirus, Pneumococcus, and Measles in the region.
The grant is primarily aimed at reducing child mortality in the East African region, investing in health initiatives and projects that focus on immunization and childhood disease prevention and control.