Representatives of the Republic of South Africa, the host nation
Department of Health, Ministry of Mineral Resources and Ministry of Labour
Distinguished Delegates from Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia
Ladies and Gentlemen;
May I take this opportunity to welcome you all to the NEPAD Agency Head Office, and extend my sincere gratitude to the government of South Africa.
Ladies and gentlemen, the African continent continues to be disproportionately affected by preventable, treatable diseases such as Malaria and Tuberculosis. The continent is also being ravaged by the HIV/AIDS pandemic, these diseases are taking away the lives of African future leaders, engineers, scientists, academicians, and most importantly the diseases are killing breadwinners at household level. These diseases are also taking a horrendous toll on the economic sector because we continue to lose productive individuals. Recent statistics indicate that Africa accounts for over 25% of the world’s disease burden, higher than any other continent in the world.
In 2015 alone, Tuberculosis claimed the lives of 1.8 million people worldwide, and of these over 450,000 deaths were recorded in Africa. Annually, Tuberculosis claims more lives than HIV/AIDS, yet it receives the least amount of funding and attention among the top 3 highest killer diseases in Africa, the other two being Malaria and HIV/AIDS. We must ask ourselves a very important question, what can we do to address this situation and save the lives of thousands of people in Africa?
The answer to this question is not a simplistic one, but requires collaborative efforts involving different partners and stakeholders to realize the goal of a world free of Tuberculosis, and achieving zero deaths by 2030. Key policy documents such as the World Health Organization (WHO) End TB Strategy (2016-2035), Catalytic Framework to End AIDS, TB and Eliminate Malaria in Africa by 2030, as well as other regional and national plans are providing the necessary framework and strategies for addressing the burden of Tuberculosis. In addition to these policy frameworks, collaborative efforts need to be geared towards where it matters the most in Africa to end the Tuberculosis scourge in the most vulnerable communities such as the mining communities, transport corridors, correctional facilities, migrants and refugees. Collaborative efforts need to also be focused on the unique relationships between TB and HIV; TB and poverty; and TB and mining requires multi-sectoral integrated approach to end TB by 2030. In responding to this challenge, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Ministers of Health have adopted a number of frameworks and declarations on tackling TB among the vulnerable populations including the Declaration on TB in the Mining Sector.
Similarly, individual countries are also collaborating to find solutions to reversing the burden of TB. Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia have come together to implement a regional initiative, the Southern Africa Tuberculosis and Health Systems Support (SATBHSS) project with funding from the World Bank (WB). NEPAD Agency, together with East Central and Southern Africa Health Community (ECSA-HC) are providing technical support and coordinating the implementation of this project in the four participating countries. The project aims to improve coverage and quality of TB control and occupational lung disease services and strengthening regional capacity to manage the burden of TB and occupational lung diseases.
In order to effectively implement this project, there is need to harness knowledge beyond the project participating countries and learn from what other countries in the region and beyond are doing to build strategic partnerships and facilitate knowledge exchange. It is for this particular reason that through this project, this knowledge exchange has been organized with the support of the Republic of South Africa to provide the project country teams with knowledge and information on setting up effective and efficient occupational health and safety, and mine health regulation systems. The visit will provide comprehensive information that will contribute to improved knowledge and practices for the country teams.
Our hope is that at the end of the next five (5) days, participating countries will have gained the necessary knowledge, and learnt best practices from what South Africa is doing on Occupational Health and Safety and Mine Health Regulation so that they can contextualize this knowledge and implement similar initiatives at national level. The visits to specific sites will provide participants with visual evidence of what our counterparts in South Africa are doing. In addition, the presentations from each country will also be very helpful for other countries as the implementation of programmes to tackle the burden of Tuberculosis is at different levels in the different countries. Therefore, this knowledge exchange does not only facilitate learning from South Africa but also between the countries themselves, as each learns more about what the others are currently doing and what is working in their countries.
Ladies and gentlemen, I know that this regional knowledge exchange will bring about a paradigm shift in the manner that we address regional and national programmes to deal with the burden of Tuberculosis in the SADC region and it is my hope that this will be rolled out to other regions and become a model that other regions shall endeavour to implement to end Tb by 2030 in Africa.
If we work together collaboratively, beyond geographical boundaries we can tackle the burden of Tuberculosis in Africa. Most of the affected individuals who work in the mines are mobile, they are migrants who cross borders in search of employment, therefore, a regional approach is best suited to offer the necessary surveillance and support to these individuals to ensure that they have access to the best treatment and medical care, and also ensure that they are properly compensated for the health challenges they may incur as a result of their profession. Most of these individuals are breadwinners, therefore providing them with the necessary health care support and compensation means that the benefits also trickle down to their dependents. We must build resilience in many TB affected communities to save lives, roll-back the disease and provide an opportunity for a Tuberculosis free future for our generation. This is possible if we continue to pull resources together, if we continue learning from each other and sharing best practices through knowledge exchange such as this one.
SADC is setting a very good precedence and we shall work tirelessly to see this work through and ensure that we end the burden of Tuberculosis in Africa by 2030. I thank you all for listening and wish you a wonderful, educative week ahead.