Through expanded regional and global partnerships, the Organization of Trade Unions of West Africa (OTUWA) is growing its campaign for increased budgetary allocation to health care in the region, said OTUWA Executive Secretary John Odah from Abuja, in a solidarity message to the opening session of the 24th Plenary of the West African Health Sector Unions Network (WAHSUN). 

Now in its fourth year, OTUWA’s “Health Care Is a Human Right” advocacy campaign is allying with global union federation Public Services International (PSI), civil society organizations across the region and WAHSUN to better advocate for equal and fair health care access for all who live within the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

Nearly 83 percent of Africa’s workers are trapped in poorly paid and uncertain informal-sector jobs and lack access to state-provided health care or health insurance—an unfair financial burden on the continent’s most vulnerable individuals. And yet West Africa’s governments are not implementing the 15 percent minimum annual budgetary health allocation to which African heads of state agreed in the landmark 2001 Abuja Declaration. No country in the region achieves this percentage currently.

OTUWA’s campaign, launched in 2020 by national labor federations from five countries, has expanded its reach to health sector unions and national labor centers in eight countries—including the Gambia, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo—as well as to civil society organizations such as the International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA).  The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights with the World Health Organization defines the right to health as “a fundamental part of our human rights and of our understanding of a life in dignity.” The Solidarity Center supports OTUWA in this campaign and on other worker rights initiatives.

“Together we must get public health services out of their chronic state of neglect and underfunding,” Odah told the Solidarity Center, adding that OTUWA’s campaign is adding good governance to its health care demands. 

Thus far, the campaign has gathered and released important regional health care worker data and initiated advocacy meetings with national, regional and continent-wide African Union legislators and policymakers, including the Parliament of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). The campaign most recently saw success in Nigeria earlier this year, where the federal government announced a disbursement of almost $70 million to bolster the country’s health infrastructure.

“Only a transparent, democratic system can secure, fairly allocate and responsibly spend increased health care funds,” said Odah.

OTUWA represents national trade union centers in the 15 West African countries comprising ECOWAS. PSI encompasses more than 700 trade unions that represent 30 million workers in 154 countries.

Watch a video about the campaign.

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the News from The Solidarity Center