The U.S.-Africa Leaders’ Summit President Joseph R. Biden Jr. is hosting December 13-15 will include panel discussions to strengthen the partnership between the United States and Africa on health, two senior administration officials told reporters on Wednesday.
At a teleconference from Washington D.C., Mary Catherine Phee, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of African Affairs, U.S. Department of State, and Judd Devermont, Senior Director for African Affairs at the National Security Council, said that health is a priority for the Biden administration and will be discussed during the summit to “intensify” the partnership.
President Biden extended invitations to the World Health Organization Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and the head of the WHO Africa Dr. Tshidi Moeti to attend the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, and the White House plans to announce an agreement for cooperation on health workforce.
Asked during the teleconference to say how the summit will address health workforce issues, the officials said that the health session on the first day of the summit on December 13 is “really going to be an exciting conversation.”
The session comes as the United States continues to battle COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses as cold intensifies in the northern hemisphere.
“One of the priorities of the administration, and indeed Secretary Blinken, is how we can strengthen the longstanding partnership between U.S. and Africa on health,” Phee said.
She added, “As you know, we’re very proud of the PEPFAR program in which we’ve invested for about three decades in helping Africans first deal with the HIV/AIDS epidemic and, secondarily, develop their health systems.
“The importance of that partnership was validated when we were dealing previously with the Ebola crisis and then recently with the COVID pandemic. And of course viruses don’t respect borders, so what’s – it’s important for all of us to find ways to engage to meet these challenges, which health experts tell us will increase and proliferate.
“So I anticipate there will be a lot of good discussion on how we intensify our partnership in this area. And secondly, we also want to expose African leaders to American businesses that deal in the health sector.
“When the pandemic broke, the COVID pandemic broke, we realized that there was not a single vaccine manufacturing facility on the continent. That’s unacceptable, and we’ve worked very hard with several countries across the continent to help them establish and expand vaccine manufacturing capability. That’s just one example of what we’re trying to do to help support health security.”
Devermont added that the health session on December 13 will be chaired by United States Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra.
He said, “I can just add a little bit on the health session, which will be on day one, which is I think really going to be an exciting conversation, an important one. And it will be chaired by Health and Human Services Secretary Becerra.
“There will be representatives from the Africa CDC there, African health ministers, representatives from African civil society and NGOs. And they’re going to focus on a couple of key priorities, which is how do we partner to build stronger health systems and better health security; opportunities to invest in the health workforce to build resilient health systems.
“Those two conversations, I think, are going to really drive a conversation that will demonstrate our commitment to health, which, as many of you know, is longstanding. We’re very proud of the work that we have done on health, starting with the HIV/AIDS epidemic and our PEPFAR program to, as Molly said, our response to the pandemic.
“So I think there is going to be a tremendous amount on health both in day one and, as Molly alluded, on day two for the business sector that will really convey our commitment and hear from Africans on what are the next steps.”