The African Union added a few gray hairs to its repertoire of sessions held since its founding in 1963. On May 25th, heads of state – current and former – gathered to celebrate the AU’s 50th jubilee birthday.
In the tide of sessions leading up to this week’s 21st AU Ordinary Summit, patients in Africa unknowingly benefited from a game changing proceeding.
AU Ministers of Health adopted a progressive common position to improve access to strong pain medications and to drastically increase their availability for patients. They also recommended that member-states integrate palliative care into national strategies to combat non-communicable diseases.
The development came as part of the AU Minister’s of Health meetings in April, convened around the Impact of Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) and Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) on Development in Africa; a theme inspired by the Africa Health Strategy 2007-2015 that recognises the need to address “chronic diseases becoming more prevalent, linked to demographic, behavioral and social changes and urbanization…”.
To put this in context: cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and respiratory diseases that have long plagued Western nations, are leaving a devastating mark of over 29 million deaths each year in low- and middle-income countries. These four disease culprits are largely linked to lifestyle changes among Africans: tobacco use, physical inactivity, the harmful use of alcohol and unhealthy diets.
Moreover, these diseases threaten progress towards the UN Millennium Development Goals. While African economies are on the upward spike, household costs to address health care are emptying the pockets of millions of Africans. The expensive cost of treatments and the tragic loss of breadwinners has become a stifling thorn in the side of Africa’s development with no end in sight.
It’s taken a while for policymakers to realize the pervasiveness of a triple disease burden – communicable diseases, non-communicable diseases and their profound social impact across Africa. But with age comes wisdom, and the 50-year-old AU now has the ball rolling. Acknowledging that pain relief needs to be accessible to the millions of patients who are wrestling with their disease is a major step. And the African patient, often struggling through isolating pain in a dark room of a hut is bound to start feeling its effects.
Interested in this issue? Follow the African Palliative Care Association on Facebook for updates.
This article was originally published on the ONE Campaign’s website.