Senior officials from Burkina Faso outlined their strong political and financial commitment to achieving universal health coverage (UHC) and called on members of the new Burkina Faso Reference Group to help them secure additional resources to support this ambitious effort.

“The [Burkina Faso] government is engaged, the president of Burkina Faso is engaged, and we have a commitment in terms of financial resources. But the need is more than the government can commit,” Nicolas Meda, Burkina Faso’s health minister, told Reference Group members.

The Reference Group is composed of representatives of organizations and agencies supporting sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) in Burkina Faso. The Group will foster collaboration and coordination to more effectively assist the country in meeting its health objectives, while raising Burkina Faso’s visibility on the international stage.

Meda and Chérif Sy, high representative of the president of Burkina Faso to the Global Financing Facility, were guests of honor at the Reference Group’s first meeting, held September 24 in New York City, on the sidelines of the 2018 United Nations General Assembly meetings.

Sy underlined the government’s strong commitment to improving public health and access to comprehensive health care. “You can’t speak about development if the population is not both well-educated and healthy. This is the reason for the kinds of programs we are engaged in,” he said.

You can’t speak about development if the population is not both well-educated and healthy. This is the reason for the kinds of programs we are engaged in.

Chérif Sy

Meda said President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré and his entire government are committed to developing a “strong, autonomous, and sustainable health system based on primary health care” that emphasizes prevention and is grounded in a multisectoral approach.

Expanding access to and use of family planning is one of the government’s four primary objectives, in part to position the country to capture a demographic dividend, Meda noted. The other primary objectives are to ensure proper food and nutrition for all Burkinabé; the elimination of infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, hepatitis, and neglected tropical diseases; and the revitalization of primary health care.

The Reference Group is cochaired by Lois Quam, president of Pathfinder International, and Jeffrey Jordan, president and CEO of Population Reference Bureau. They noted that Reference Group members are excited to be able to lend their support to Burkina Faso’s leaders, who are laying the groundwork for success through their commitments. Burkina Faso has also prioritized improved SRHR as part of its pursuit of UHC and a healthy population.

“We have this tremendous opening in Burkina Faso. Its government at every level is showing its commitment by putting their own resources to the fore and welcoming other support,” Jordan said. “To have that as the basis for starting our work is very exciting.”

“I am always inspired by Minister Meda,” Quam added. “He has challenged us to be innovative in our support, particularly around technical assistance and building local capacity.”

Meda listed several specific targets the government has set, including ambitious population and family planning goals such as reducing the country’s total fertility rate to 4 children per woman from an estimated 5.5 children now and reaching a contraceptive prevalence rate of at least 60 percent, about double the current rate. The government also wants to ensure that average household expenditure on health is limited to less than 20 percent of a household’s total health expenditures, down from about 32 percent now.

Nicolas Meda, Burkina Faso’s health minister (left), and Chérif Sy, high representative of the president of Burkina Faso to the Global Financing Facility (right), advised the Burkina Faso Reference Group on their government’s strong commitment to developing a comprehensive and sustainable health care system.
Nicolas Meda, Burkina Faso’s health minister (left), and Chérif Sy, high representative of the president of Burkina Faso to the Global Financing Facility (right), advised the Burkina Faso Reference Group on their government’s strong commitment to developing a comprehensive and sustainable health care system.

To be sure, Burkina Faso has made progress on many fronts. Meda noted, for example, that the country’s current contraceptive prevalence rate of about 32 percent is up from 22 percent only three years ago. But more work is needed to sustain the momentum.

“We need your help,” Meda told Reference Group members, adding, “We ask for support, but we have already made some decisions that show our own commitment.”

He said Burkina Faso has earmarked the equivalent of about $90 million annually to support free health services, of which about $53 million is for free services for women and children, but they are still falling short of what is needed. Citing the example of access to family planning services, Meda noted that making these services free of charge would require the government to spend $16 million annually, but only $4 million is available.

More generally, he said the government’s priority is to “extend free health care at the community level” by ensuring a sufficient number of community health workers who are equipped to provide quality care. He said there are currently about 17,000 community health workers overall who are partially funded by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, but that support will end in 2020.

The Reference Group was formed following a meeting of interested organizations and agencies with Meda in April 2018, in response to a request for support in elevating Burkina Faso’s visibility and in turn mobilizing the balance of necessary funding and technical assistance needed to execute the country’s ambitious plans.

Reference Group members will reconvene on the sidelines of the International Conference on Family Planning in Kigali, Rwanda, in November 2018. They also plan to visit Burkina Faso during the first quarter of 2019 to explore ways to improve coordination among implementing and local partners there so that they can fully support the government’s health objectives.

The Reference Group’s objectives are to:

  • Raise the visibility of Burkina Faso’s health and development successes at the global level.
  • Generate new resources for reproductive health services geared toward UHC through new funding relationships, expertise, and capacity.
  • Act in support of the government’s policy commitments to universal access to SRH services integrated with broader health care coverage, while expanding community health strategies and broader development programs.
  • Commit to work together to foster coordination and institutional collaboration in service of Burkinabé.

The Reference Group’s work will also help inform a Global Financing Facility replenishment event to be held in Olso, Norway, in November 2018.