Providing adequate healthcare should not be a business

Healthcare in sub-Saharan Africa remains the worst in the world. Despite widespread poverty in the region, more than 50 percent of health expenditure is financed by out-of-pocket payments from individuals.

With poor health systems, difficulty getting access to efficient, evenly distributed healthcare and the burden of healthcare payments on citizens, an ambitious platform African Business Coalition for Health (ABC Health) was launched in Addis Ababa on Tuesday, February 12, to make a business out of the healthcare services in Africa. Build relationships and awareness with influential African business leaders.

ABC Health brings together business leaders in Africa to collaborate with heads of government and other stakeholders to tackle basic health challenges in Africa. It is a joint initiative of Aliko Dangote Foundation; GBCHealth, and United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA).

While building relationships and awareness with influential African business leaders, ABCHealth helps leverage current health investments with local partners to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), build capacity and resilience of domestic health systems with a single goal in mind; generating progress in critical health areas, while providing guidance to companies on how to maximize the value and impact of their investments.

Aliko Dangote, Chairman of Aliko Dangote Foundation, stated that, “with the launch of ABCHealth, business leaders can now make commitments to contribute directly to a healthy and prosperous Africa, enabled by collaboration and business partnerships. Not only will this be a social good, but there is a profit potential.”

Even the Executive Secretary of the United Nation Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), Vera Songwe noted that, “To the private sector, our leaders are expecting you to invest in healthcare because you will get higher returns than you can get anywhere else.”

There has been a strong avocation for the private sector to play a huge role in the health sector. While the rational behind this may be to improve the health sector the profit aspect which the private business are looking to maximise cannot has been unsettling for critics.

Understandably, it would be unfair to compare third world nations and first world nation, however, the best way to move from the former to the latter is to study the systems that work and adopt them. Most European nations and some other nations around the world, not just in Africa, practice some sort of universal healthcare, meaning that everyone has equal access to quality healthcare that improves the health of patients without causing financial harm to those patients.

This is by far the reality of patients in Africa. Matter of fact, healthcare is a business on the continent. Like any other business, the healthcare industry, especially when privately run, benefits a select few and even though it may be open to all, it is nothing but cheap.

According to Rudo Kwaramba-Kayombo, the African Executive Director of the One Campaign, an advocacy organisation aimed at putting an end to extreme poverty and preventable diseases, particularly in Africa, “Health provision is a business in its own but it is also a public good which benefits businesses”.

“It makes good business sense to invest in health care. There is a broad cross section of opportunities for business to engage in health.” Kwaramba-Kayombo adds.

Rather than the government channelling its focus on investing in healthcare to ensure a healthy citizenry that can contribute to the growth and innovation of a nation, the government is lackadaisical and letting the private sector play the saviour, while exploiting patients.

Ill health impairs productivity, hinders job prospects and adversely affects human capital development. Health yields economic dividends and it has been shown by the World Health Organisation (WHO) that increased life expectancy and low infant mortality are linked to economic growth, as healthy people are more productive, and a healthy population contributes to a country’s economic growth.

With the alarming rate of poverty in sub-Saharan Africa, a progressive displacement of the state on health sector and the total dependence on private businesses as a long term means to cater to the needs of patients, improve basic health care services and provide cheap and adequate services to the sick is a wrong foundation for governments’ in Africa to lay.

Speaking to the British Broadcasting Corporation, David Bannister, South African researcher of universal health coverage at the University of Oslo in Norway stated that the private sector should play a supplementary role in health systems with precedents given to the governments.

“Given the burden of disease and the current gaps in services and in funding, I think it is what examining the primary access to good primary health care. At this moment of profound change across the developing world, I think policymakers and health officials in Africa do need to move very cautiously because some of the decisions they are taking now are likely to have long term consequences and not all of those consequences may be beneficial for citizens or patients down the line.”

In 2015, about 1.6 million Africans died of malaria, tuberculosis and HIV-related illnesses. These diseases are preventable and can be treated with timely access to health services, Unfortunately, less than 50 percent of Africans have access to modern health facilities and many of the countries in Africa spend less than 10 percent of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on health care.

Quite alright, the sector is underfunded but private sector funding may not be the solution as it may lead to an overpriced health system, enable businesses affiliated with the wealthy and those in power to lobby for a role to play in health sector because it is lucrative.

As of 2013, 80 percent of Africans, mostly those in the middle-income bracket and low-income bracket, rely on public health facilities many because it is relatively affordable but leaving that to private businesses only make healthcare a luxury rather than a right.

In 2014, It was estimated that the African continent requires a total additional investment of between $84 billion and $140 billion to strengthen national health systems. That investment could save the lives of about 3.1  million people and prevent 3.8–5.1 million children from stunting.

Currently, $17.3 worth of drugs are imported into the African Continent. Should Africa manufacture the drugs it needs, 17.3 billion jobs would be created. This is where the private sector can come in and can play a strong role in drug manufacturing.

Corruption on the African continent has hindered it from establishing a lot of good, working and favourable systems that would be beneficial for all. However, good governance is a key determinant of good health outcomes in countries and this is manifested through policies and legislation which have a direct or indirect bearing on the health of the people. African Business Coalition for Health (ABC Health) may not be the best platform to use in improving the health of the people.