In this blog Sonali Silva reflects on the launch of the African Health Observatory Platform (AHOP) and how the region will attain universal health coverage (UHC).
“Effective collaborations are essential for attaining universal health coverage in the region” says Dr Humphrey Karamagi, Team Leader Data, Analytics and Knowledge Management WHO AFRO at the online launch of the African Health Observatory Platform on Health Systems and Policies (AHOP) – a new knowledge brokering platform designed to bridge the evidence-to-policy divide. The Platform is a collaborative partnership to support and promote the transfer of evidence and experience between countries to foster better policies and action for improved health and well-being.
AHOP’s knowledge brokering remit is rooted in the understanding that we can’t assume that simply collecting data will lead to evidence-based policy: the process of comprehensively analysing and presenting that data in an appropriate manner is key to facilitating decision-making in countries. Bridging the research to policy gap requires unique skill sets with different perspectives operating under one umbrella. AHOP promises to fulfil this crucial role in the region.
The route to universal health coverage
The webinar panelist discussed the pathway to universal health coverage which requires a fundamental change to how health systems are presently operating in the region – from a siloed disease focus to a more comprehensive integrated approach. Consequently, the emphasis has shifted to providing essential services and strengthening primary health care. It is crucial that at every stage of development from designing to monitoring of services, communities and beneficiaries are involved. The region is now looking at a more comprehensive set of services, which are defined by the users – underscoring the importance for health systems to adapt to changing contexts and demand. Providing support in a low-resource environment is much more complicated, and that is where initiatives like AHOP have become invaluable – AHOP has been designed with this change in mind – focusing on how decision-makers can facilitate this process at a national level.
The Platform leverages existing national and regional collaborations to form a network of National Centres focused on the generation and exchange of knowledge and evidence for health systems and policy development in the African region. The Platform’s National Centres currently include institutions in Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda and Senegal. AHOP is hosted by the WHO Regional Office for Africa (WHO AFRO), which serves as the Regional Secretariat. The Platform draws on support from WHO AFRO as hosts and from a technical consortium including the European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies, the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) and national, regional and global partners.
A major challenge for the region in terms of effectively exchanging and using local and global knowledge in health systems development and implementation are the varied institutional capacities to effectively engage with the wealth of health systems knowledge that exists. At present, there are limited platforms capable of facilitating the effective translation of existing regional knowledge into local contexts. The panelists believe that AHOP has the potential to overcome these challenges and allow for countries to re-engineer their service delivery systems.
Key event highlights
During the webinar, there was general consensus by the panel that there cannot be a standard blueprint across the region for the ‘ideal’ health system. Supporting each country’s unique pathway to UHC is challenging given the complexities of the current health systems within the region. Considering Ethiopia has the second largest population in Africa with 115 million people in 2020, Dr Dawit Wondimagegn the Principal Investigator from the Ethiopia National Centre reiterated that there are many lessons learnt and best practices that Ethiopia can offer. He believes that though each country is on its unique path, there are a lot of common ground issues the region faces. The panelists agreed that there was a need to strengthen the region’s policy engagement and knowledge translation capacity – again reiterating the added value and timeliness of AHOP
One of the key planned AHOP outputs is a Country Health Systems & Services Profile and parallel reviews of each country’s health strategic documents. Professor Obinna Onwujekwe, Principal Investigator of the National Centre in Nigeria believes his team can immensely contribute to this vital task as the Nigerian centre has the highest concentration of health economists in West Africa. Cross-country peer-review will allow each National Centre team to benefit from the strengths of the other.
Dr Cheikh Loucoubar, Principal Investigator from the Senegalese National Centre, believes the Pasteur Institute can contribute with input from a unique perspective as a not-for-profit foundation. AHOP provides an opportunity for teams like Professor Loucoubar’s to give better visibility to the country’s priority health problems.
A key highlight from Dr Benjamin Tsofa, the Principal Investigator from the Kenyan National Centre (KEMRI Wellcome Trust) is the need to institutionalise the current means by which African health experts collaborate and broker knowledge. He believes that the country stands to benefit from AHOP and its key comparative studies as it will amount to a regional push to translate that evidence into national policy.
As the conversation stirred towards the impact of COVID-19 on health systems in the region, Dr Aline Umubyeyi, Principal Investigator from the National Centre in Rwanda, touched upon the Platform’s identified priority thematic areas. Documenting COVID-19 best practices, challenges and lessons learnt is one of the Platform’s priorities along with health financing to ensure equity service delivery; strengthening health systems resilience; and retaining healthcare workforce. She drew focus on the need for country health system profiles on healthcare service delivery, which will be one of the Platform’s flagship outputs.
The panelists concluded with enthusiasm that there were realistic next steps in place and the work has only just begun. With the support of its technical partners WHO AFRO and LSE, ultimately the project aims to strengthen health systems through increased regional health systems analysis and increased uptake of evidence by policy makers, recognising the value of looking comparatively across the region.
To conclude Dr Karamagi stated, “Collaboration and knowledge translation are not new – what is new with this initiative is the approach we are taking to support the movement of countries towards UHC.” Within the region, countries can benefit from a growing, collaborative platform, which enables learning and exchange at national, regional and global levels – a significant step in the right direction towards UHC for the African region.
The views expressed in this post are those of the author(s) and in no way reflect those of the Global Health at LSE Blog or the London School of Economics and Political Science.