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Will Free Trade Make Africans Sick?

The new African Continental Free Trade Area could yield enormous economic benefits once it takes effect. But African governments must act immediately to address the AfCFTA's potential negative implications for Africans' health.

NAIROBI – Earlier this month, The Gambia became the 22nd country to ratify the agreement establishing the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). The agreement is expected to enter into force soon, once 22 countries have deposited their ratification documents with the African Union (19 have so far).

By removing trade barriers and allowing the free movement of goods, services, and people across Africa, the AfCFTA could help to increase combined consumer and business spending on the continent to $6.7 trillion by 2030. But the new trade bloc’s possible impact on the health of over one billion Africans has barely been discussed. That is an alarming oversight.

The African Union views the AfCFTA as an important step toward integrating the continent and promoting regional trade. Given the experience of other free-trade blocs, however, the pact raises concerns about the weakening of government-funded public-health systems, increasingly unequal access to care, a medical brain drain, higher drug prices, increased consumption of unhealthy products, and the spread of diseases. African governments should act immediately to assess these threats and counter the AfCFTA’s potential negative health implications.

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