Félix Tshisekedi, President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and 2021 African Union Chair, calls on his peers to learn from HIV and strengthen health systems

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The 34th Ordinary Assembly of the African Union Heads of States and Government was held virtually on 6 and 7 February 2021.

The President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and new Chair of the African Union, Félix Tshisekedi, pictured above, urged Member States not to forget devastating global epidemics, such as malaria and AIDS, and learn from them to strengthen health systems, including the reinforcement of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Leveraging the experiences we have gained in the fight against adversity and our ability to adapt, we should not give up. Let us not forget other pandemics, often more deadly, that are still affecting the continent, like malaria and HIV,” said the President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The assembly recognized the African Union’s role in mounting a united, innovative and strong partnership among Member States to address the COVID-19 pandemic, which has had a significant economic impact on Africa and further weakened its health systems.

Heads of states committed to sustaining efforts to curb the spread of the virus and mitigate its socioeconomic impact by using the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement and to implement a coordinated vaccination programme through the Africa Vaccine Acquisition Task Team to ensure that no country is left behind.

“In responding to the pandemic, we have been at the forefront of innovation. We established the groundbreaking Africa Medical Supplies Platform to assist African Union Member States to access affordable medical supplies and equipment,” said the President of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa, pictured above.

The President of South Africa commended heads of states for their extraordinary and decisive leadership in tackling the COVID-19 crisis. He expressed dismay at the increase in violence against women and called on the continental body to prioritize women’s economic empowerment and develop a convention to promote, protect and fulfil women’s rights. He called on Member States to ratify International Labour Organization Convention No. 190 on eliminating harassment and violence in the world of work.

Aside from the African Union Chair’s handover from South Africa to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the two-day assembly marked critical decisions on the implementation of the African Union’s institutional reform, including its Commission, and the election of four new commissioners. Moussa Faki Mahamat was re-elected as the African Union Commission Chairperson for a second four-year term and newly elected Monique Nsanzabaganwa, the first female in the history of the Commission, as his deputy.

“I congratulate the President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Félix Tshisekedi, for taking the reins as the Chair of the African Union for 2021 and commend him for calling on his peers to sustain efforts in the AIDS response and strengthen health systems in Africa while we are still facing the COVID-19 pandemic. I reaffirm UNAIDS’ support to the African Union. Saving lives, tackling inequalities and advancing universal health care are lessons learned from AIDS to address current and future pandemics successfully,” said Clémence Aissatou Habi Baré, Director of the UNAIDS Liaison Office to the African Union and United Nations Economic Commission for Africa.