Japan in Africa
Building resilient health systems
Published on August 26

Tomorrow is the start of the Sixth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) in Nairobi, Kenya.

Launched in 1993, TICAD is the key platform to drive Japan’s ongoing development initiatives in Africa. TICAD respects African ownership of its own development path, while tapping into multi-stakeholder partnerships to promote openness.

Final Ticad VI Logo

At TICAD V in 2013, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe predicted that Africa would become a growth center of the world by the middle of the century. His forecast is right on track. Over the past few years, Africa achieved remarkable progress. African nations consistently register more than 5 percent economic growth annually, far beyond most developed countries.

However, several new threats to development have emerged; namely,  the slump in natural resources prices, the spread of violent extremism and terrorism, as well as the Ebola crisis, which exposed vulnerabilities in African health systems.

These challenges set the stage for tomorrow’s TICAD VI, which will focus on three priority areas—resilient health systems, economic diversification and social stability. Specifically, the conference will be an opportunity to advance Japan’s ongoing commitments to Africa in the fields of health, water and sanitation, as well as agriculture.

At TICAD V, Japan committed to providing support to strengthen African health systems, with training for 120,000 healthcare workers, including midwives, pharmacists and administrators. TICAD drives ongoing efforts toward universal health coverage, maternal and child health, as well as the prevention and treatment of infectious diseases.

 

Built about 35 years ago with cooperation from Japan, the Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research (NMIMR) in Ghana is on the frontline of the fight against Ebola. It was founded to honor Japanese bacteriologist Dr. Hideyo Noguchi, well-known in both Ghana and Japan for his pioneering research on yellow fever. Dr. Noguchi came to Ghana in 1927 to study yellow fever, but was fatally infected with the disease during the course of his research, dying there six months later.

NMIMR conducts medical research and runs technical cooperation projects to prevent the spread of infectious diseases. It has 49 researchers drawn from Ghana, other African countries, Japan, and elsewhere around the world, including France and the United States. The research team has delivered numerous successful results over the years and NMIMR is the only institute in Ghana registered for Ebola inspection by the World Health Organization.

“From its inception, the Noguchi Memorial Institute enjoyed Japanese government support and is now known as the preeminent such organization in West Africa,” said NMIMR’s Dr. Mitsuko Ohashi.

“I think the institute can point to a range of achievements. It has done intensive work in areas including Ebola specimen testing.”

 

Additionally, Japanese public-private partnerships are driving projects aimed at improving sanitation and access to safe water in Africa. According to the UN, almost 650 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa lack access to proper sanitation. Often they are forced to defecate in the open, risking diarrheal disease and the danger of assault—particularly women. Many young girls drop out of education before completion due to the absence of safe and hygienic toilet facilities.

In Kenya, LIXIL Group, a Japan-based global leader in housing and building materials, is working with JICA and partners including the Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Research Organization and the Kenya Institute of Organic Farming to produce a waterless, odorless eco-toilet. The initiative aims to protect water resources and prevent the spread of disease. The toilet system is designed to treat human waste in an environmentally-friendly way by separating liquid and solid waste, and treating solid waste with a local microorganism to kill pathogens. Waste can then be used to fertilize farmland.

Ms. Yamakami advocates adoption of waterless, odorless eco-toilet system throughout Kenya.

Ms. Yamakami advocates adoption of waterless, odorless eco-toilet system throughout Kenya.

LIXIL’s Ms. Yu Yamakami, who leads research for this project in Nairobi, said, “Improving sanitation conditions has a lasting positive effect on the health and wellbeing of communities. It means a reduced risk of disease, but also a safer, more dignified environment for women and girls. We have worked with NGO partners, community groups and local schools to understand the local challenges, develop solutions, and also run education programs for young girls and local residents on issues relating to sanitation and hygiene.”

 

Equally as important as building resilient health systems and improving sanitation is helping Africans gain economic self-sufficiency. Agriculture is by far the largest employer in Africa, accounting for 65-70 percent of the labor force in most countries. Recognizing this, empowering farmers as mainstream economic actors is also a key objective of TICAD.

Since TICAD IV in 2008, Japan has partnered with the Coalition for African Rice Development (CARD) to double rice production in Africa from 14 million to 28 million tons by 2018. CARD is helping to implement farming skills programs and develop new varieties of rice like New Rice for Africa (NERICA), offering higher yields. The results have been tremendous. 2014 alone saw a 25 million-ton yield—a 74 percent increase. These higher yields result in more income and opportunities for farming communities throughout Sub-Saharan Africa.

Senior rice technical advisor Mr. Tsuboi works alongside African farmers.

Senior rice technical advisor Mr. Tsuboi works alongside African farmers.

Senior rice technical advisor, Mr. Tatsushi Tsuboi explained: “By planting NERICA stem by stem, it has steadily spread throughout Uganda and currently is making inroads in Ethiopia. In West Africa, it’s also doing quite well in Guinea. And right now, cultivation is even starting in Sudan and other desert countries.”

 

At the upcoming TICAD VI, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and African heads of state will convene in Nairobi with leaders from the United Nations, United Nations Development Programme, the African Union Commission, the World Bank, relevant private-sector partners and civil society, to address pressing African development needs and the prognosis for the future.

As the first conference held inside Africa, TICAD VI is set to further advance Africa to become a growth center of the world by the middle of the 21st century.

To learn more, visit www.japan.go.jp/ticad/