Ministers responsible for health from the COMESA region have adopted Rules of Procedure to guide the establishment of a COMESA health desk and a regional statutory committee on health matters.
This follows the recommendations by the 42nd COMESA Council of Ministers Meeting held in November 2021 which directed that a committee on health be established. Towards this goal, health experts and Ministers of Health meetings are scheduled to develop a plan to mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and other diseases.
Once established, the health committee will develop the COMESA Health Programme and monitor illegal commercial practices in the medical and pharmaceutical sector in the region. The newly adopted Draft Rules of Procedure have been discussed and reviewed by health experts in consultation with other Regional Economic Communities and partners such as the Africa Union Center for Diseases Control (AU-CDC).
Specifically, the COMESA Health Desk is expected to facilitate the development of policy and strategic frameworks on health, promote and coordinate the implementation of health programmes, promote research and sharing of best practices on health, promote local manufacturing of medicines, prepare reports and service meetings of Member States.
Speaking during the opening of the first meeting of COMESA health ministers held on Wednesday 22 June 2022, Zambia’s Minister of Health Ms Sylvia Masebo described the proposed health desk as the foundation upon which the COMESA health programme will be built.
She said COVID-19 had provoked the region to act on an area of the integration agenda that had been ignored.
“We can ill-afford to be caught unawares ever again,” she stressed. “We all agree that establishing mechanisms to predict and avert possible challenges relating to our region’s health sector is critical. Similarly, the need to put in place the infrastructure to coordinate our responses to any health risks, or needs, has become a matter of urgency.”
Masebo, who was Chairing the virtual meeting, urged the delegates to pay attention to what the statistics indicate about the relationship between the economies and disease noting that the very existence of the regional bloc is anchored on promoting trade.
A research study by the International Monetary Fund entitled ‘The Long Economic Hangover of Pandemics’ which interrogated the impact of pandemics from the past, came to the conclusion that nations require at least 20 years to recover from the effects of the slowdown in business which these pandemics cause.
In her address, Secretary General Chileshe Kapwepwe said the Health Desk will enable the region deal with diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis, hepatitis and HIV/AIDS, cancers, and maternal and child health matters and other diseases that have had a devastating impact on the population in the COMESA region.
Centre for Disease Control (CDC) Africa Director, Dr Ahmed Ouma said his organisation will support the operationalization of the COMESA Health Desk which he described as a step towards regional health security.
“Indeed, the health desk will be one of the steps to achieving health security of the citizen through coordination of programmes on health in COMESA and will support building health resilience health systems, COVID-19 vaccine rollout, cross border disease surveillance, and other means to limit the transmission of existing and emerging health threats,” Dr Ouma added.
The meeting also discussed the need to support the COMESA Health Desk with financial resources once it is launched to effectively achieve its mandate.