Harvard holds inaugural Joseph Agyepong lecture; Focus on public health in Africa

The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health has held its Inaugural Joseph Siaw Agyepong Distinguished Lecture on Public Health in Africa.

This is in honour of the Founder and Executive Chairman of the Jospong Group of Companies, Dr Joseph Siaw Agyepong, for his initiatives, contributions to, and impact on the Public Health Sector in Ghana.

The inaugural lecture was delivered by the Director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention under the African Union, Dr John Nkengasong, with a call on African leaders and health experts for a new public Health order in Africa that looks at the totality of the dynamics of the Public Health Delivery in Africa.

He said a new order in Public in Africa calls for the “Strengthening systems for health and health systems”, through the strengthening of African Public Health Institutions and the capacity of African Public Health workforce as well as encouraging local manufacturing of essential drugs that makes medication cheaper and easily accessible to citizens of the continent.

Dr Nkengasong, who also served as the acting deputy principal director of the Centre for Global Health, United States Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, and Chief of the International Laboratory Branch, Division of Global HIV and TB of the same institution, called for an enhanced culture of data through acquisition, warehousing, use, and sharing of such data.

He also called for the development of public private philanthropic partnership in the sector to provide more investment in national public health institutions to proffer lasting and sustainable solutions to Africa’s public health problems.

Dr Nkengasong hinted at some of the measures being put in place by the Centres for Disease Control and other health institutions in preparation to contain the looming dangers of the Covid-19 pandemic on the continent including a Multi-Sectoral Enhanced Surveillance Training as well as Risk Communication among others.

In his introductory remarks, Dr Joseph Siaw Agyepong expressed his appreciation to the Harvard Centre for African Studies which initiated the lectures through the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and the Harvard Medical School to provide a platform for dedicated health experts from many disciplines to share their work and experience in the field.

“There is a strong correlation between public health and economic development. In other words, a country’s economic development depends on the health of its people”…“If we don’t take the health of the people seriously, we jeopardise the development of the country. It is no secret that using sanitation alone to predict life expectancy has about 77 per cent accuracy,” Dr Siaw Agyapong remarked.

He enumerated some of the interventions his companies have made in ensuring the prevention of sanitation-related diseases and improving air quality mainly in Ghana and other parts of Africa. These include solid and liquid waste collection and treatment, as well as the dredging of major drains in Ghana which has gone a long way to resolve age-old environmental sanitation problems and improved the quality of life in the affected communities.

Dr Agyepong commended the President of the Republic of Ghana, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, for his commitment to Environmental Sanitation and for creating the Ministry of Sanitation and Water Resources to deal with sanitation issues and subsequently improve public health.

“It is my passion for public health that drove me to endow this lecture series on public health in Africa. It is my firm belief that this lecture and subsequent ones will educate new generations of global health leaders, and contribute to finding lasting and sustainable solutions to improve the health and well-being of Africans.

The Oppenheimer Director of the Harvard University Centre for African Studies, Professor Emmanuel Akyeampong, commended Dr Agyepong for being a strong supporter of the Centre for African Studies “and the work you do in Ghana that influences public health as well as supporting this lecture, which will bring great thought leaders on the topic of public health in Africa and ensuring that Africa is at the front and centre of global public health conversations taking place at the university”.

The Dean of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Prof. Michelle A. Williams, noted that while great strides have been made in prevention, detection and containment of existing and emerging diseases, “we know that our healthcare systems are still alarmingly vulnerable. That’s true in the wealthiest and most developed places on earth—and even more so in places with limited, disjointed or overburdened healthcare systems.”

“Recent pandemics underscore the urgent imperative of a sweeping, coordinated response between governments, international organisations, NGOs, and the broader public health community. That means building stronger public health systems that can detect and contain diseases. It also means better coordination across local governments—and national ones too. And it will mean accelerating research and development into diagnostic tools, vaccines and treatments,” she added

In another development, the Harvard University presented a Veritas Key to Dr Joseph Siaw Agyepong, inducting him into the Veritas Society. The Veritas Society is a group of Harvard’s most generous alumni and friends.

The University Marshal, Dr Margot Gill, on behalf of Harvard University, presented him with a silver key inspired by the original set of keys given to Harvard in 1846 and designed exclusively for the members of the Veritas Society.

She said: “It is a unique keepsake that I hope will allow you to fondly reflect on your Harvard experience and feel proud of the important role you play in ensuring that Harvard continues to be a place of discovery for people leading positive change in the world and in Africa.”

Earlier, Dr Agyepong signed the official Visitation Book at the office of the University Marshal, a book signed by sitting Presidents and distinguished visitors to the school.

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