As the world becomes more globalized, leadership in public health is more crucial than ever for tackling health inequities and fostering gender equality. This need is especially pressing in Africa, where the continent continues to face a variety of health challenges, such as infectious and noncommunicable diseases, as well as maternal and child health care, to name a few of the major concerns raised at the second International Conference on Public Health in Africa-CPHIA2022, held in Kigali, Rwanda and hosted by the Africa CDC and African Union, in partnership with the Rwanda Ministry of Health and Rwanda Biomedical Center.
CPHIA 2022 provided a unique platform for African researchers, policymakers, and stakeholders to come together and share perspectives and research findings in public health while ushering in a new era of strengthened scientific collaboration and innovation across the continent and build more resilient health systems that allow African countries to better prepare for and manage emerging health threats while also addressing long-standing infectious diseases.
Achieving today’s complex global health goals requires greater and more diverse leadership talent across sectors and countries. And yet women are an untapped talent pool, representing 70% of the health workforce but only 25% of executive positions and 5% of CEO-level positions.
The persistent gender gap that exists throughout Africa is a major obstacle for public health. Women and girls in Africa still confront substantial impediments to education, healthcare, and economic opportunities. This imbalance has devastating effects on women’s and girls’ health and inhibits the work of public health officials to better the health of the population. Africa’s leaders must prioritize gender equality in their policies and programs to overcome this challenge. This requires addressing the social, economic, and cultural elements that lead to gender disparity. It also necessitates working closely with local communities, civil society organizations, and other stakeholders to identify and address the unique needs of women and girls in various locations and circumstances.
Improving access to education, particularly for girls, is an effective strategy for advancing gender equality in public health. It has been demonstrated that education has a significant impact on health outcomes and investing in girls’ education can assist to lower the prevalence of infectious diseases, enhance maternal and child health, and promote general gender equality. Public health officials in Africa can collaborate with schools and community organizations to provide girls with the support and resources they need to remain in school, complete their education, and acquire the skills and necessary knowledge to succeed in the workforce.
“I’ve been told that I’m a pan-Africanist. I don’t mind that. What I know is that I’m a strong believer that it’s only Africa that is going to solve its own problems.” Africa CDC Acting Director Dr. Ahmed Ogwell Ouma
Providing women and girls with access to high-quality healthcare contributes hugely to the improvement of gender equity in public health. In many regions of Africa, women and girls confront major challenges to healthcare access, such as a lack of information, inadequate infrastructure, and cultural shame. Leaders in public health in Africa can fight to increase the availability and quality of healthcare services, especially for marginalized groups such as rural women and girls, refugees, and individuals living with HIV/AIDS. This can involve activities such as the training and support of community health professionals, the improvement of infrastructure, and the provision of health education and information.
While women’s health has always been a priority in global health, the role of women as advocates and leaders in health has received less attention, and the disproportionate impact of public health on women is less extensively studied. We must move beyond the traditional focus on women as recipients of health interventions to include women as shapers, providers, and leaders of a gender inclusive health system, recognizing that universal health coverage is not possible without gender equity. By prioritizing education, healthcare, and other key areas, public health leaders can help to address the underlying causes of gender inequality and improve the health and well-being of women and girls across the continent.
Africa needs to invest, bring our expertise at the forefront, and strengthen our workforce. The African Union and the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) needs to consider, take stock on the public health agenda and shape more resilient conversations characterized by strong political will to continue the journey to self-sufficient Africa able to deliver and take ownership of data driven science and make decision leading Africa to development.