By Dr. Serigne Gueye Diop, Ministre Conseiller à la Présidence de la République du Sénégal
Sub-Saharan Africa has an especially urgent need to strengthen surgical care systems. Surgery has long been a neglected component of health care for people on the African continent, and equitable integration of surgical and anaesthetic care remains the key challenge to strengthening health systems and achieving universal health coverage in Africa. If we get this right, we can greatly reduce the rate of mortality and morbidity from surgically preventable and treatable conditions on the continent.
It is important to note that we have seen some progress over the years. There has been, for example, a 37% decline in mortality rates between 2000 and 2015, however Africa still lags in other health indicators, in particular, a patient’s ability to access doctors and surgical specialists. This is problematic, as one third of the world’s clinical conditions that require emergency care and essential surgical, obstetric, and anaesthetic services (EESOACS), occur in Africa.
In May 2022, H.E. Mr. Macky Sall, President of the Republic of Senegal and the Senegalese Ministry of Health hosted an international symposium on strengthening surgical, obstetric, and anaesthetic care systems by 2030 in Africa in Dakar. The event was held in collaboration with the international NGO Mercy Ships, the World Health Organisation Regional Office for Africa, and the African Colleges of Surgeons. President Macky Sall promoted the importance of bringing African countries together to identify shortcomings, discuss healthcare gaps, and identifying how we, as a unified continent, can address them.
At this symposium, a roadmap was defined, to accelerate access to surgical, obstetric, and anaesthetic care across Africa by 2030. It is my desire that this roadmap, and the Dakar Agreement, is adopted throughout the African Union to see access to surgical care and surgical education significantly increased in this period.
Building towards the future together
The short-term surgery needs of the people must be addressed, but we also need to focus on the longer-term needs too by building surgical capacity through training of local people. Infrastructure-development, and securing of financing will also need to happen, if we are to succeed in achieving our goals.
There is so much we can accomplish together as we build towards a future of safe and affordable surgery for all. Creating meaningful partnerships between different countries, and with service providers, where each nation benefits from shared resources, can go a long way to addressing the immediate needs of the people. This will allow time to implement sustainable solutions that will ensure the integration and scaling up of surgical care in the countries’ national health development strategies.
A good example of successful partnerships is the one between Senegal, The Gambia, and Mercy Ships. This initiative instituted by HE Mr. Macky Sall, in accordance with the President of The Gambia, HE Mr. Adama Barrow, has seen the Global Mercy docked in Dakar for the first half of 2023, where teams have provided much needed surgeries to citizens of both countries, and training to its surgical professionals.
We have work to do
If we are to create an effective universal healthcare system in Africa, we will need to focus on developing stronger partnerships among Africa Nations, and work together to develop implementable and sustainable solutions for surgical, obstetric, and anaesthetic care. We also must ensure that our surgical professionals will receive top-class, ongoing surgical education in Africa, which is based on the latest available scientific research. We also need to continue to partner with subject matter experts, such as the visiting surgical professionals in the Mercy Ships teams, as we work towards accelerating growth, and guaranteeing the quality of existing healthcare systems for our people.
Education of Africa’s people will also play a key role. We need to share knowledge and build trust among our population by sharing information about the individual’s right to access quality surgical care, the surgical solutions that are available for common health challenges, and we need to educate our local community healthcare professionals and carers so they can correctly direct their patients to the medical and surgical hospitals that can assist them in their time of need.
It does take a village to raise a child. In this instance that child is an effective universal healthcare system, in every country in Africa. By identifying and building strong partnerships that can address both the short- and long-term needs of each African nation, we can lay a solid, sustainable foundation on which the universal healthcare system can be built.