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Using health diplomacy to improve Africa's health

Brazzaville, 20 February 2012 -- Since the end of the Cold War, state and non-state actors -- including the World Health Organization (WHO) -- have come to rely on health diplomacy, in its various forms, to advocate for the improvement of the health status of populations including in the African region.

In the realm of health diplomacy, 10 February 2006, 11 February 2011 and 10 February 2012 have symbolic and practical significance for the African Region of WHO. On these dates, WHO, under the leadership of its Regional Director for Africa, Dr Luis Sambo, organized information and sensitization sessions for diplomats accredited to the Republic of Congo and based in Brazzaville where the Africa Regional Office of WHO is hosted since 1952.

Rationale for engaging the diplomatic community

“The central aim of these encounters has been to engage and influence foreign policy and development actors and processes that impact on the broad area of development cooperation, and to facilitate action to promote and protect the health of the people of Africa”, says Dr Matshidiso Moeti, the Deputy Regional Director at the WHO Regional Office for Africa.

“Around the world, health, increasingly a part of foreign policy agendas, is included in national security, trade, diplomacy and other discussions, leading to an outpouring of health assistance and to a variety of new financing mechanisms. Our instituting this annual meeting with the diplomatic community accredited to our host country reflects our recognition of the broad determinants of health, and the need to engage people and structures in policy arenas beyond the health sector,” she added.

Little wonder then that the three briefings organized so far were attended not only by heads of African and non-African missions accredited to the Congo, but also representatives of bilateral development institutions as well as non-governmental and inter-governmental organizations. Participants in this year’s briefing were joined, for the first time, by Health Attachés and Health Desk Officers of 15 African Diplomatic Missions accredited to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, headquarters of WHO.

In steering the 10 February 2012 meeting, Dr Sambo, once again, highlighted the health situation in Africa and made concrete proposals for action by suggesting proven, evidence-based, and high impact interventions to address the health challenges facing the Region. He clearly outlined the strategic directions that guide WHO’s work in Africa from 2010 – 2015, and gave the audience an insight into the on-going reform at WHO. When he was done, he had left his audience with very clear unambiguous messages.
Key messages

Not in any ranking order, the main messages delivered during the Regional Director’s presentation may be summarized as follows:

Greater efforts are needed from African countries and development partners to achieve the improvements set out in the Millennium Development Goals
All hands must be on deck to stop wild poliovirus circulation in Africa in 2012
National governments need to make more investments in health (more money for health and more health for the money)
Specifically, African governments must strive to meet the commitment of Heads of State to allocate 15% of their national budgets to health as stated in the Abuja Declaration.
Governments should support WHO in expeditiously operationalizing the African Public Health Emergency Fund
The global financial crisis has adversely impacted on WHO; therefore, national governments and the international community should rally around WHO to ensure minimum disruption of its work in Africa

Response of the diplomatic community

“We shall do our job by relaying the information you have provided us to our home governments”, said the Mrs Marie Charlotte Fayanga, Dean of the Diplomatic Corps in Brazzaville and Ambassador of the Central African Republic to Congo.

Mrs Fayanga was joined by the Congolese Health Minister, Prof Georges Moyen, in lauding the initiative to set up the African Public health Emergency fund which, Dr Sambo had hinted, was already receiving contributions from some Member States.

A number of diplomats who took the floor, unreservedly complimented WHO for institutionalizing the forum as a unique platform for sharing experiences in the broad field of development cooperation and, in particular, in the area of health development.

Indeed, His Excellency Amandin Rugira, the Rwandan Ambassador in the Democratic Republic of Congo (who has concurrent accreditation to the Republic of Congo) proposed that WHO should invite to future editions of the forum all heads of missions who have concurrent accreditation to the Republic of Congo.


The universal agreement that health is fundamental makes health diplomacy a potent tool that could help African governments and their development partners make a difference in Africa’s health status. A well known example of WHO leadership in health diplomacy at global level is the successful conclusion of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, signed in 2003, “to protect present and future generations from the devastating health social, and environmental and economic consequences of tobacco consumption and exposure to tobacco smoke.”

A healthy population is a key requirement for socio-economic development and the ongoing advocacy by Africa’s health leaders, like Dr Sambo, with national governments and development partners should continue to yield dividends and propel the people of Africa to achieve the ultimate goal of health - “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity."

Dr Luis Gomes Sambo has taken the initial bold first steps. (AFROFeatures)

Source: WHO Release News

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