Guy Aho Tete Benissan, REPAOC Regional Coordinator, Member of Gavi CSO Constituency Steering Committee.

It all started in Dakar, in September 2011 during the first consultation of the Francophone African Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), where we were about thirty francophone NGOs meeting to discuss issues related to health systems strengthening and vaccination programs in our countries.

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Senegalese children say hello. Credit: GAVI/PATH/Ricky Shryock

After three long years of hard work, November 26, 2014 represented a real milestone with the official launch of the Francophone African Civil Society Organizations’ Platform for Strengthening Health Systems and Immunization (OAFRESS) in the presence of three African Health Ministers from Benin, Ivory Coast and Senegal.

Today, the platform covers 17 Francophone African countries and is coordinated by REPAOC, an alliance of non governmental organisations based in West and Central Africa. Along the way, we have set up a blog site and strengthened partnerships with Northern CSOs (such as PATH, GHA, AMP, Coordination SUD) to best enhance effective participation of Francophone CSOs in Health Systems Strengthening (HSS) and immunization. But without funding, and even with the best intentions, we could not do much more.

Today, thanks to Gavi’s financial support – which marks a genuine recognition of the key role that we, the CSOs, play in the field – we can think bigger and wider. CSOs can help address challenges related to equity and access, especially for the most remote populations. This funding will allow us to revitalize the regional information hub, organize meetings on coordination, and planning, organize trainings to develop advocacy champions, educate CSOs on health policy issues in the region, develop partnerships and strategic activities for a stronger political and financial mobilization at the regional level for women and children’s health. 

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As REPAOC’s Regional Coordinator, I have the task of overseeing the OAFRESS project and I strongly believe that the project will generate a lot of positive momentum for the good of our communities. This will especially be the case if the work is centred around three key areas: we need to work on governance and transparency in the use of funds; look at increasing vaccine coverage rates; and finally, work around the sustainability of immunization financing. The next meeting of the platform in early 2015 will allow us start fresh and develop an action plan in support of an optimal implementation of the new Gavi strategy for 2016-2020.

We all know that the world has been shaken by the Ebola virus crisis, which highlighted the well-known inadequacy of our health systems in Africa to cope with this disease. So now is the time to unite all civil society actors for a more coordinated advocacy work around healthcare access.