President Mokgweetsi Masisi has promised to strengthen Botswana’s health systems to achieve universal health coverage as a means of attaining the Sustainable Development Goals. Adressing the 75th session of the World Health Assembly (which took place in Geneva between 22-28 May 2022), Masisi shared Botswana’s health trajectory, particularly in the midst of country’s efforts to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had severe health and socio-economic impact, disproportionally affecting countries with the least capacity to respond and protect lives and livelihoods. This is in addition to being faced with several issues including worsening poverty, humanitarian crisis, increasing geopolitical instability and climate issues among others, which require collective action and global solidarity. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed glaring inequities and inequality both within communities and between nations, with low and middle-income countries experiencing a disproportionate impact of the pandemic.
“Regrettably, there was a lack of global solidarity, particularly during the early period of the pandemic. This was evident both in the decision-making on medical products such as vaccines and personal protective wear, as well as resource allocation to combat the pandemic. This resulted in preventable loss of lives and disruption of quality essential health services. This will undoubtedly affect the recovery process, stall and in some cases regress achievements towards attaining the Sustainable Development Goals” said President Masisi.
Universal health coverage implies that all people have access without discrimination to affordable quality health services, without exposure to financial hardship and with special emphasis on the poor, the vulnerable and marginalized segments of the population. This holistic framing of responses to health issues in public policy underscores the determination and willingness to safeguard the national economies while striving to protect the lives and livelihoods of their constituents.
Post the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, Botswana acknowledges the changing global trends that require strengthening the country’s health systems to achieve universal health coverage as a means of attaining the Sustainable Development Goals.
The head of state reiterated Botswana’s commitment to the African region through the Abuja Declaration for the governments to ensure that at least 15% of national budgets are allocated to health. It will be recalled that at the 2019 Political Declaration of the High-level Meeting on Universal Health Coverage, Member States pledged to ‘enhance emergency health preparedness and response systems, as well as strengthen capacities at national, regional and international levels, including to mitigate the impacts of climate change and natural disasters on health’.
Having recognized the interplay between health and development, Botswana affirmed its commitment and accordingly aligned its strategies to the “Health in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”. These include the country’s 11th National Development Plan (April 2017-March 2023), the drafted 12th National Development Plan, and the National Vision 2036.
The Minister of Health Hon Dr Edwin Dikoloti also attended the meeting accompanied by senior ministry officials and in his statement highlighted the need to “capacitate the WHO country offices and enable them to support the countries with normative and technical guidance”. He also stressed the importance of “empowering the individuals to enjoy their highest attainable health status, with supportive and resilient health systems as a key investment to assure health security”.
While the country made significant progress in areas of HIV transmission from mother to child, malaria, and non-communicable diseases, and shows great success in COVID-19 vaccination, as an upper-middle-income country, Botswana continues to experience challenges that negatively impact its health sector. “These include limited access to safe medicinal products, research and development, challenges with availability of essential list drugs, inability to attract and retain quality and skilled health personnel, amongst others”, said His Excellency.
He also acknowledged that “this is an opportune time to adequately finance the WHO, to enable it to act as the leading authority in global health governance and demonstrate our collective action and commitment. In line with the position of the African Region, Botswana also welcomes and supports the proposal to increase assessed contributions to 50% of the budget by 2028-2029. Furthermore, I wish to appeal to developed countries and donors to reduce the earmarking on voluntary contributions which has the advantage of enabling the organisation to address its broad priorities, and enable it to provide adequate leadership and technical support to countries”.
“It is extremely pleasing to see how the determination of Africa’s leadership has translated into action across sectors, especially in respect of advocating for equity, better resourcing of programmes and better access to the tools needed to fight this pandemic, as well as in advancing the continent towards local production of medicines, vaccines and associated equipment”, said in her opening remarks delivered on 21 May to the WHO African Region Minsters’ Coordination Meeting, in preparation for WHA75, the WHO Regional Director Dr Matshidiso Moeti.
As a WHO Executive Board member, Botswana participated in the nomination of Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus for the second mandate as WHO Director-General, at the 150th Board meeting in January this year. President Masisi considers that “Dr Tedros has shown great leadership at the helm of the organization, most importantly, when the world is facing one of the hardest and unprecedented health and socio-economic crisis in modern time. My Government believes that the re-appointment of Dr Tedros will afford him the opportunity to continue to lead the Organisation and complete the mandate of the 13th General Programme of Work (GPW13) as extended to 2025, including its Triple Billion targets set for WHO to support us in realizing the SDG 3 by 2025”.