EAC leaders to discuss regional approach on infectious diseases


The Minister for Health, Dr Diane Gashumba speaks during a recent press briefing. EAC Heads of State will discuss a regional approach to combating infections diseases during a two-day joint East African Community Heads of State retreat on infrastructure and health financing in Kampala, Uganda later this month. / File

The search for a regional approach in fighting infectious diseases, among others, will feature during a two-day joint East African Community Heads of State retreat on infrastructure and health financing and development that takes place on February 22 in Kampala, Uganda, an official has said.
The EAC Secretariat in collaboration with partner states and development partners are preparing for the two-day meet on infrastructure and health financing and development.
The Minister for Health, Dr. Diane Gashumba, said the objectives of the joint retreat “with regards to the health sector”, include building consensus on national and regional health sector investment priorities for the attainment of universal health coverage and health related SDGs; showcasing major health sector investments and investment opportunities in partners states; and revitalizing regional partnerships.

Mobilizing investments and resources to facilitate implementation of identified health sector priorities, Dr Gashumba said, will also feature.
The fourth EAC Heads of state retreat on infrastructure financing and development will be preceded by the first regional Summit on investment in health and health sector investors and donor round table and international exhibition.
According to the Secretariat, the retreat themed: “Deepening and widening regional integration through Infrastructure and Health Sector Development in the EAC Partner States’’ is aimed at  accelerating the attainment of the objectives of the bloc’s development strategy, African Union Agenda 2063 and the Sustainable Development Goals in the infrastructure and health sectors in the six-member bloc.
Dr Gashumba said: “Ministers of health started preparing together remotely. Some of the points we would like to emphasize include a regional approach to fighting infectious diseases like malaria, TB and HIV; expansion of the capacity to produce skilled and professional workforce; and preparedness and readiness to fight public health threats across the region.”
According to her, increasing access to safe,effective and affordable medicines, vaccines and other technologies; upgrading health infrastructure and equipment and improvement of quality healthcare; and expansion of health insurance and social health protection, were other points they would like to emphasize during the event.
Uganda's EAC affairs minister, Julius WanderaMaganda, said the joint retreat was timely.
“It has come at a time when most blocks are integrating to maximize on opportunities, the need to link partner states to ease movement of goods and services, the need to reduce trade barriers, improve in health funding, and research on the dynamic disease burden,” Maganda said. 

“We should be talking about an integrated infrastructure which will make research and development easy for the region, alternatively the region must be developing a serious financing mechanism to this sector”.
The retreat – to be followed by the 19th Ordinary Summit of the EAC Heads of State scheduled for February 23, in Kampala – is expected to give impetus to infrastructure and health development by way of harnessing political support for regional flagship projects, funding commitments, and public-private partnerships arrangements.
“It will address all these aspects and come out with a mechanism for sustainable development”.
Also to be held prior to the retreat will be a ministerial session of the 36th meeting of the Council of Ministers and the 35th extra-ordinary meeting of the Council. 

Separate donor round tables will be held at ministerial level to review progress of implementation of previously prioritized infrastructure projects and deliberate on investment opportunities and funds mobilization strategies for quicker delivery of prioritized regional infrastructure and health projects.
Focus areas in infrastructure sector
The retreat is being convened at a time when the region’s 10-year infrastructure priorities that were agreed upon during the third Heads of State retreat held on November 29, 2014 in Nairobi, Kenya have transitioned from the conception phase to the implementation phase.

It will among other things review the status of implementation of the priority projects including relevant policy directives, mobilization of the required financing and implementation of the resolutions proposed to address the challenges observed at the third retreat.
It will target key priority projects in railways, ports and inland waterways, energy and connecting roads prioritized to de-congest the cities and enhance logistics at the ports. Likewise, as agreed during the third retreat, the fourth retreat is expected to receive a report on the projects and programmes of the civil aviation and airports sub sectors. Regional leaders will also consider strategies being developed to engage with the private sector in development of these projects, and the enhanced collaboration with development partners – in particular African Development Bank (AfDB) – under the Programme for Infrastructure Development for Africa (PIDA).
Focus areas in health sector
The retreat is being planned at a time when partner states are expanding the capacity for delivery of high quality health services, training and research such as through the AfDB or partner states’ financed regional centers of excellence in Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda. 

Rwanda hosts the regional center of excellence for e-Health, Biomedical Engineering and Health Rehabilitation Sciences; and the regional center of excellence for Vaccines, Immunization and Health Supply Chain Management. Kenya has the regional center of excellence for kidney diseases; Tanzania the regional center of excellence for heart diseases; and Uganda the regional center of excellence for Cancer.
Partner States are jointly operationalizing a regional network of reference laboratories for communicable diseases – including rapid deployment of state of the art mobile diagnostic medical laboratories – to strengthen the region’s capacity to diagnose and respond to infectious diseases prone to cause cross-border epidemics.
The retreat will provide policy guidance on: EAC’s agenda to eliminate HIV/AIDS and preventable maternal and child deaths by 2030; advance medical tourism; strengthen pandemic preparedness and response; enhance local manufacturing of medicines and health products, and; catalyze job creation through the health sector thereby ultimately expanding and consolidating health sector contribution to the region’s socio-economic development.