Harvard University holds inaugural Joseph Siaw Agyepong Distinguished Lecture 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 Dr. John Nkengasong, Director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention under the African Union, with a call on African leaders and health experts for a new public Health order in Africa that looks at the totality of dynamics for Public Health Delivery in Africa.

He said a new order in Public Health Delivery in Africa calls for the “Strengthening of Health Systems” through the strengthening of African Public Health Institutions and the capacity of African Public Health workforces – as well as encouraging local manufacturing of essential drugs so as to makes medication cheaper and easily accessible to citizens of the continent.

Dr. Nkengasong – who also served as 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 a Public-Private Philanthropic Partnership in the sector to provide more investment in national Public Health institutions to proffer lasting and sustainable solutions for 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, 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 Harvard Medical School to provide a platform for dedicated health experts from many disciplines to share their work and experience in the field.

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“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 people’s health seriously, we jeopardise the country’s development.  It is no secret that using sanitation alone to predict life-expectancy has about 77% 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 African. 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 improve the quality of life in affected communities.

Dr. Agyepong commended President 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 beilief that this lecture and subsequent ones will educate new generations of global health leaders, and contribute in finding lasting and sustainable solutions to improve the health and wellbeing of Africans.”

Professor Emmanuel Akyeampong, the Oppenheimer Director of the Harvard University Centre for African Studies, commended Dr. Joseph 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 together and ensure that Africa is at the front and centre of global public health conversations taking place at the university”.

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Professor Michelle A. Williams, Dean of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, noted that while great strides have been made in prevention, detection, and containment of existing and emerging diseases, “we know that our health care 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 health care 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 which 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.

Harvard University honour

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.

Dr. Margot Gill, the University Marshal, 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 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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