kaberuka10_Louise GubbCorbis via Getty Images_malaria prevention Louise Gubb/Corbis via Getty Images

Investing in Africa’s Health

COVID-19 has reversed some of the progress made in the fight to eradicate AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis in Africa. But, despite high inflation and an uncertain economic outlook, African governments can take several steps to strengthen local health systems and bolster the continent’s defenses against future epidemics.

KIGALI – There was a time, not so long ago, when an HIV diagnosis was a death sentence. AIDS, together with tuberculosis and malaria, killed millions of people and overwhelmed health systems worldwide – especially in Africa. But the world came together and fought back. The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, established in 2002, is an unparalleled success story. Cooperation between developed and developing countries, the private sector, civil society, and affected communities has saved 44 million lives, and the combined death rate from these three diseases has been reduced by more than half.

Saving this many lives has had a huge economic impact. The Global Fund estimates that an investment of $1 through the health programs it supports will result in $31 in health gains and economic returns over three years. And since most of its investments are in Africa, the benefits will spread across the continent.

But the COVID-19 pandemic curtailed this rapid progress. While the death rate on the continent has not been as catastrophic as many feared, the pandemic has had a profoundly negative impact on Africa’s health systems and on the fight against AIDS, TB, and malaria. Testing, diagnosis, and treatment for these diseases have been severely affected, threatening the gains made in previous decades. Worldwide deaths from malaria, for example, increased by 13% in 2020, to a level not seen since 2012. Unless things change, the gap in health and economic outcomes between Africa and the rest of the world will widen.