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What a difference a decade makes! In the last ten years Africa has transformed itself from the stereotype of a dark continent of death, disease and destruction to one of triumph and growth. The May 2000 cover of The Economist, which declared Africa the “hopeless continent,” was way off the mark. Nevertheless, at the time, many Africans could sense that all was not going very well with their continent. The turn of the millennium witnessed these concerned Africans rolling up their sleeves and doing hard work to transform the continent. From the political leaders to the man in the streets, Africa’s drive to change was unprecedented.
When The Economist announced Africa “the hopeful continent,” on its cover of December 2011 it was not because Africa was “rising” as the magazine noted at the time. It was because the continent had already risen. Beating big odds and naysayers, Africa had crossed the Rubicon. Today, according to IMF estimates, seven African countries appear on the list of the world’s 10 fastest-growing economies.
This remarkable growth is fortunately not just in GDP numbers. Across the continent, improved standards of living have been registered. For instance, indicators for health in Africa have registered tremendous improvements. In the field of infectious diseases, the continent has been pulling all the stops on its way to defeating HIV, tuberculosis and malaria. This again is a contrast to what was happening a little over ten years ago when many thousands of people were dying as a result of AIDS-related complications in Africa. Then, HIV was still characterised by fear, hopelessness, myth and half-truths. Only 50,000 people – about 1 percent of the 4.1 million people in need – were receiving ARV therapy in Africa. Around this time, it was estimated that 31 percent of AIDS-related deaths in the world occurred in the 10 countries of Southern Africa. These numbers keep improving by the day. New HIV infections are declining, death-related to HIV complications are plummeting. These remarkable developments have also been recorded in the fight against malaria and tuberculosis – the other two leading infectious diseases.
In the fight against these diseases, Africa is winning. In achieving these results, partnerships with development partners have been fundamental. The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) have been the two leading partners in this regard. At the African Union, we are thankful for the role that these two organisations have played in helping Africa defeat these three big diseases. However, we know that development partners will not be with us forever. To perform even better, Africa must invest vigorously in finding self-reliant ways to financing the fight against these diseases. Domestic finances set aside to build African health will enhance country ownership and sustainability in the continent’s health programmes.
This is why the 2001 Abuja Declaration which was renewed in 2006 and recently in 2013 at the Abuja+12 and the African Union Roadmap on Shared Responsibility and Global Solidarity (2012-2015) has seen African countries take action to boost domestic funding for health. The achievement of dedicating at least 15 percent of budgets to health is critical in ensuring that Africa meets its health and development priorities. Africa must continue to seek more ways to stand on its feet and march forward towards controlling these diseases.
This is why the meeting by ministers of health and finance, parliamentarians, private sector players, development partners and civil society leaders from many countries across Africa, which is happening in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, this week, is paramount. The meeting seeks to press forward with issues of boosting domestic financing of infectious diseases, exploring ways of making this practicable and actionable. At the African Union, we strongly support this initiative as a means to beating these diseases once and for all.
Mustapha Kaloko is Commissioner for Social Affairs, African Union Commission