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African presidents and leaders met in Ethiopia last week to map a solution to one of the greatest challenges on the continent − the lack of access to health care and health systems that work for all citizens, no matter how poor they are or how isolated they are from cities and towns.

Diseases like malaria, diarrhoea, and pneumonia, which are some of the biggest killers of children in Africa, are easy to prevent and treat. Yet, the continent still struggles to provide life-saving treatment.

Take Action: Stand With Every Woman, Every Child: Ask World Leaders to End Preventable Deaths

According to Bill Gates, this is because the richest countries in the world aren’t digging deeper into their pockets to help the continent’s most vulnerable people.

Gates spoke at the first annual Africa Leadership Meeting on investing in health at the African Union (AU) Summit in Addis Adaba, Ethiopia’s capital city.

“If you look at the big killers of children, these are things that we have cheap interventions for: diarrhoea, pneumonia, malaria,” Gates said. “The first 10% of spending in rich countries gives you 90% of the benefit.”

The meeting was attended by African governments, the private sector, and the global development community, and was held to explore long-lasting solutions to challenges that prevent more than half of Africa’s population from accessing essential health services

The meeting marked the launch of a new Africa-led initiative to deliver increased, sustained, and more impactful financing for health across Africa

Having an Africa-led solution is critical to turning the tide. At the moment, only two out of the 55 AU member states are meeting the target of investing at least 15% of their budgets in health care.

Meanwhile, Africa accounts for 24% of the global disease burden and receives just 1% of global health spending.

Given the levels of poverty in Africa, the call for governments to invest more in health may seem ambitious but, as Rwanda shows, it’s definitely not impossible. The country has gone from being one of the poorest in the world to being a beacon of hope.

Significant gains made in health care in Rwanda include reducing infant mortality rates and offering universal access to health care — that’s despite being classed as a low-income country.

Rwanda’s success shows that even without significant funding to tackle challenges, political will and smart spending can deliver results. This is what makes the commitment made by African leaders at the meeting so important.

Gates attended the meeting as a representative of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which spends $2 billion a year on Africa alone, largely to improve health and agriculture with access to vaccines and more productive seeds for crops.

Gates said investing in health is a priority for the foundation, and urged African governments to invest more in health systems as well.

Disclosure: Bill Gates is the co-founder of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, a funding partner of Global Citizen.

Editor's note: This piece has been updated to include a disclosure that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is a funding partner of Global Citizen. We regret the oversight.


Defeat Poverty

Africa Can Have Great Health Care Despite Poverty: Bill Gates

By Lerato Mogoatlhe