The Whole Of Society Approach In Health


  • Dr Amit Thakker, Executive Chairman of Africa Health Business
  • Dr Monique Wasunna, Director of Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative Africa Regional Office
  • Kedest Tesfagiorgis, Head of the Global Partnerships & Grand Challenges team within the Discovery & Translational Sciences programme at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
  • Prof Tobias Rinke de Wit, Director of Research of the PharmAccess Group and Joep Lange Institute (JLI)

The African powerful concept of ‘Ubuntu’ has never rung louder and truer than the last two and a half years. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that we truly are one global community: “I am safe when everyone is safe, I am because you are”. For all its pains,
COVID-19 also laid the groundwork for a universal truth that we need to prioritize an equitable and accessible health care system that permits detection, diagnosis, treatment, prevention, and control of known and unknown pathogens & primary care for all.  It has also brought with it the importance of partnerships in health. 

Universal Health Coverage (UHC) cannot be achieved in isolation by a single sector. Health requires a ‘Whole of Society Approach’ which involves collaborations and partnerships across different sectors including public and private providers, Faith Based Organizations, Civil society, the community, policy makers and health workers. Moreover, UHC is only reached when pertinent payers for health(care) are aligned (insurers, donors, investors, international, regional and national funds, domestic and tax-based financing, out-of-pocket payments). 

With so many developments in health wrought in past decades under threat of collapse, organizations around the world, both private, civil society and public, formed unprecedented partnerships in a bid to fight the virus. This happened in an exemplary manner through the regional approach coordinated by Africa Center for Disease Control (Africa CDC). This approach resulted in Partnership to Accelerate COVID-19 Testing (PACT), African Task Force on Coronavirus (AFTCOR), Africa Medical Supplies Platform (AMSP), COVD-19 African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team (AVATT), Africa Vaccine Delivery Alliance (AVDA), Partnership for Africa Vaccine Manufacturing (PAVM), the Africa Pathogen Genomics Initiative, the ANTICOV trial involving 13 African countries, supplemented by National COVID-19 task force multisectoral teams to offer guidance at the national level on containment measures. This continental strategy undertaken in Africa contrasted with the individualistic approaches by many Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries, which were concentrating on prioritizing their national health interests. 

Health is a human right. Achieving UHC ensures that everyone has access to quality health services thus making sure that every individual enjoys this fundamental human right. Employing a Whole of Society Approach to health, even for future pandemics is not easy. There are a few steps that can be taken to ensure all stakeholders are represented, and that partnerships are equitable and functional. First, it is important to jointly determine and agree on a shared vision that goes beyond national interests. In the process of creating such a common vision, incorporating flexibility and agility into the agenda will prevent its collapse. Each stakeholder should come into the agenda while focusing on its strengths, core competencies, and mandates. Openness and trust among the Whole of Society players is vital in determining the timeline of collaboration. When all members of the Whole of Society dare to be vulnerable and share data and insights systematically and openly, then trust begins. Trust is the basis for successful UHC.  

Pandemics in Africa are far from over and will require more robust, agile (digital) health systems. The disruptive socio-economic influence of the COVID-19 pandemic will persist for many years to come, while new outbreaks manifest themselves, be it Monkeypox or Ebola. COVID-19 proved unambiguously that due to the weak health systems, infectious diseases in Africa spread quickly, with African Omicron manifesting itself within a month in all corners of the world. Moreover, COVID-19 made it crystal clear that human health includes a healthy environment and healthy (domestic) animals (One Health).

The African Union, through Africa CDC is ensuring that Africa continues the dialogue on health in Africa for Africans. Thus, the second International Conference on Public Health in Africa (CPHIA 2022), which will take place from 13 -15 December 2022. One of its nine tracks, track 7 on the “Whole of Society- the Power of Engaging Civil Society, Community Actors and the Private sector”. This will be a great opportunity for the whole of society, to engage in critical aspects of partnerships, collaboration, and innovation for a prosperous Africa.

The Africa we want is a healthy, safe, and prosperous Africa that is contributing to a healthy World. Let’s learn our lessons, expand the African Ubuntu to an international collaborative spirit that embraces the Whole of Society, and be better prepared with stronger health systems to ensure quality and accessible healthcare for all. Then, only then, can we take advantage of the incredible breakthrough innovations in medicine.  

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