‘It is important when discussing health issues in the country to leave no one behind,’ said Health Minister, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi at the second Annual African Forum for Research and Education in Health (AFREhealth) Symposium held at Durban’s ICC.

Themed, Towards Achieving Universal Health Coverage in Africa – Creating Synergies and Capacity through Education, Research and Quality Health Services, the event saw experts sharing experiences on research related to the move towards universal health coverage (UHC).

Motsoaledi highlighted weak health systems as one of the biggest problems in the world. According to Motsoaledi, Africa is the only continent that sends its head of states overseas when they are sick, ‘Unless the head of state is treated and dies here, that is the only time we can say we have a health system.’

He said the South African health system is being seen as a model for the whole continent. ‘No one should copy it because it is not working,’ he said with conviction.

‘We are about to change it from a curative model by focusing more on a preventative model,’ continued Motsoaledi.

‘Let’s focus less on our failures but on the opportunities and possibilities,’ said Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology’s Dr Peter Donkor while welcoming guests at the Symposium. The symposium seeks to improve healthcare in Africa through research, education and capacity building.

Launched in Nairobi in 2016 by the Medical/Nursing Education Partnership Initiative (MEPI/NEPI), AFREhealth seeks to build on the achievements of two funding initiatives, MEPI and NEPI launched in 2010 and 2011 respectively by the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA).

One of the sessions at the symposium explored the North-South and South-South partnerships for health system development.

Moderated by Dr Roger Glass, Director of the Fogarty International Center and Associate Director for International Research and Professor James Hakim, Professor of Medicine at the University of Zimbabwe College of Health Sciences, the presenters during the session were Professor Salim Abdool Karim, Director of CAPRISA, who presented on Research capacity building and partnerships; Dr Keith Martin, a physician and the founding Executive Director of the Consortium of Universities for Global Health (CUGH) who spoke on strategies and governance structures to strengthen AFREhealth; while Dr Eric Goosby, a Professor of Medicine and Director of Global Health Delivery and Diplomacy, Institute for Global Health Sciences, at the University of California spoke on TB partnerships and HIV/TB programmes; and Professor Nelson Sewankambo, Professor of Medicine at Makerere University College of Health Sciences spoke about Medical Education Capacity Building North-South and South-South pact on health systems in the African countries.

The symposium had a number of sub-themes including financing healthcare in Africa.

Moderated by the Chair of the organising committee, UKZN’s Professor Fatima Suleman and Patrick Kadama, the speakers at that session shared experiences and evidence of models used to finance Universal Healthcare (UHC) and the requirements to sustain it.

Mark Bletcher, spoke on the Challenges facing African countries in terms of financing as they move to UHC, Damen Hailemariam focused on Ethiopia’s plans for UHC, and the different types of insurance proposed, while Ellis Owusu-Dabo discussed the National Health Insurance Scheme in Ghana.

All the speakers in this session looked at models implemented by Ministries of Health at a systems level for funding UHC services, benefit packages and reimbursement of healthcare professionals. The theme also covered models implanted by national governments for financing of services, benefit packages and healthcare for UHC by national government.

Moderated by Francis Omaswa and Oathokwa Nkomazana, the session on Building Health Research Capacity in Africa for UHC saw experts sharing experience on current models to enhance and support research capacity development and how this influenced policy and practice.

Presenters UKZN’s Professor Thumbi Ndung’u’ Sub-Saharan African Network for TB/HIV Research Excellence, James Hakim, AFREhealth and Constance Benson: Director of the HIV/AIDS Clinical Trials Unit (ACTU) looked at promotion of models for health research capacity development and identification of gaps and initiatives to address these as well as ethical conduct of research.

Moderated by James Hakim and Emilia Noormahomed the Achieving the SDGs and the 90-90-90 targets for HIV/AIDS theme shared experiences of initiatives of innovative models or scaled up approaches to achieve SDGs and HIV targets.

Professor Quarraisha Abdool Karim presented a talk titled: Is 90-90-90 enough to end AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa? while Jean Nachega presented on Achieving Viral Suppression in 90% of PLHIV on ART in LMICs: Progress, Challenges, and Opportunities and Professor Hoosen Coovadia presented on How Weakened and Current Health Systems can achieve the SDGs.

The presenters shared evidence, challenges and barriers regarding the move within countries and globally towards the SDG goals and the 90–90–90 HIV targets.

Francis Omaswa presented on the Global Health workforce Movement, from Neglect to pertinent Global Agenda, UKZN’s Professor Sabiha Essack on Reconceptualising Health Professions Education in South Africa: ASSAf Consensus Study, while Ibadat Dhilon presented on WHO – Global Education Competency Standards under the Training Health Professionals for Universal Health Coverage theme.

Moderated by Marietjie de Villiers and Elsie Kiguli-Malwadde, presenters shared experiences, challenges and discussed best practices and lessons learnt from these innovations in health professionals’ education as countries move towards UHC implementation/scale up. They gave clarity on the skills set required for UHC and the innovative teaching and learning approaches to impart the skills.

The conference promoted the use of evidence in decision-making, as well as linkages with health systems and other initiatives.

Words and photographs: Nombuso Dlamini