African health ministers announce new ‘key’ strategy to fight infectious diseases |

health ministers, meeting to the seventy-second session of the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) The Regional Committee for Africa in Lome, Togo, has adopted a strategy known as PEN-PLUS.

This plan will be implemented as a regional strategy to address non-contagious disease in medical institutions of the first level. The strategy supports building the capacity of district hospitals and other first-level specialized institutions for the diagnosis and treatment of severe non-communicable diseases.

Heavy burden of chronic diseases in Africa

Severe noncommunicable diseases are chronic conditions that lead to high levels of disability and death among children, adolescents and young adults. In the worst cases, patients live no more than a year after diagnosis. In Africa, the most common severe noncommunicable diseases are: sickle cell anemiatype 1 and insulin-dependent type 2 diabetes, rheumatic heart disease, cardiomyopathy, severe hypertension, and moderate to severe persistent asthma.

“Africa is grappling with an increasing burden of chronic diseases, the severe forms of which are taking away precious lives that could have been saved with early diagnosis and treatment,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.

She went on to say that the strategy adopted today is critical to making effective care available to patients and “marks an important step in improving the health and well-being of millions of people in the region.”

In most parts of Africa, severe non-communicable diseases are treated in health facilities in major cities. This exacerbates health inequalities by making care beyond the reach of most rural, peri-urban and low-income patients. Moreover, these urban institutions often lack the capacity and resources to effectively treat severe noncommunicable diseases.

Standard treatment packages

The new strategy urges countries to implement standardized programs to control chronic and severe noncommunicable diseases by ensuring the availability and accessibility of essential medicines, technologies and diagnostics in district hospitals.

According to a 2019 WHO survey, only 36 percent of countries in the African Region reported having essential medicines for noncommunicable diseases in public hospitals. Governments should ensure that people who seek care in private hospitals can access services to treat serious noncommunicable diseases.

In addition, the strategy recommends that countries strengthen protocols for the prevention, care and treatment of chronic noncommunicable diseases through training and upgrading the skills and knowledge of health workers.

Noncommunicable diseases account for most of the out-of-pocket costs of patients in Africa and, due to their chronic nature, often result in catastrophic health care costs. By offering treatment for noncommunicable diseases as a package of services available in primary and community health facilities, patients will find that their costs will decrease as they spend less money on transportation, urban living and less time traveling to health facilities.

The PEN-PLUS strategy builds on existing WHO initiatives for the integrated detection, diagnosis, treatment and management of noncommunicable diseases in primary health care settings. It has shown promising results in Liberia, Malawi and Rwanda, with significant increases in the number of patients accessing treatment for severe noncommunicable diseases and an associated improvement in outcomes for these patients.

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