Tailor-made solutions needed to build resilient health systems in Africa

The Covid-19 pandemic has placed a severe strain on the health system in the world and many healthcare workers have been stretched far beyond their capacity.

For most African countries, balancing a response to the pandemic with the challenges of providing universal health care has highlighted the need for resilient health systems that will address the imperatives of the UN Sustainable Development Goals and prompt novel, custom-made solutions for the continent and its people.

While the collection and analysis of data across the region has enabled some of the continent’s success stories to be showcased, experts agree that the health system challenges faced by the region span over the financial, political and socio-economic spheres and that addressing them will take a multi-faceted and African approach.

Industry leaders suggest that national health budgets which have been increased in response to the pandemic, should not return to pre-pandemic levels but rather be used to build health infrastructure and to prioritise vulnerable groups into the future.

Exhibition Director for the upcoming Africa Health Conference Mr Azzan Mohamed, believes that these increased funds could be used to invest in initiatives that will improve health quality and will better prepare the continent to handle the increase in non-communicable diseases and future pandemics.

“Similarly, investing in training and remuneration of healthcare workers will have a positive impact on a sustainable health system for the region,” he says.

In sub-Saharan Africa there are only 0.2 doctors to every 1,000 people in the population against a global average of 1.6 per every thousand.  Furthermore, the quality healthcare that does exist is not equally distributed across population groups, with rural women usually bearing the brunt of the system’s shortcomings. (Source: www.roche.com/about/priorities/personalised_healthcare/futureproofing-africa.htm)

The key to sustainability on the continent is the need for legislative reform to address gender disparity and place greater focus on the health, education, employment and harmful sociocultural practices of women.

Empowering African women to make self-directed positive health choices will result in greater gender equality and women who are able to make an increased contribution to their communities.

Emergent technology and the advent of big data are proving instrumental in the drive towards sustainability and will enable health systems to leapfrog over some of the structural challenges faced by the region.

“We have already seen an up-take of telemedicine brought about by the pandemic. Greater use of remote assistance tools could save time and money while improving access to quality care and specialist treatments and services, especially in remote rural areas.”

Mohamed adds that widespread digitization and mobile penetration could facilitate development of dependable centralised repositories of individual healthcare records and data.

Industry experts agree that regional collaboration is at the heart of innovation and therefore sustainability.  The potential of intra-African collaborations and trade, to boost the stability of the medical supply chain, share resources, and bridge existing coverage gaps has been demonstrated by a collaboration prompted by the Covid-19 pandemic where a regional task force responsible for activities such as infection control, screening, detection and diagnosis of the disease was established.

“This is a good example of how regional collaboration can benefit health systems at a community level, as it provided a regional view of the pandemic and enabled a multi-national initiative to assist in securing PPE, vaccines and testing kits,” says Mohamed.

Sustainability in African healthcare is one of the key themes to be discussed at the Africa Health Conference, scheduled to take place in October this year. The event presents a unique opportunity for healthcare experts and businesses from around the world to gather and discuss the medical and healthcare developments of the continent.

“Reliable data-driven insights will be a key determinant in devising novel approaches to managing the public health challenges faced by the region.  We are now tasked with formulating context-specific sustainability goals, and designing systemic improvements to reinvigorate the sector and build back better after the Covid crisis, hopefully in the process cultivating the resilience to weather any future storms,” says Mohamed.

This year’s conference will be a virtual one, held on a custom-made platform. This means that delegates can participate and gain CPD points valid in several African countries – all from the comfort of their home or office.

Africa Health 2021 will take place online between October 25 and 29, 2021 and attendance is free of charge.