Addressing Africa’s Healthcare Challenges

Seth Akumani
Head of Exploration, UNDP Ghana’s Accelerator Lab

Seth Akumani, Head of Exploration at the United Nations Development Programme and Expert Advisor to Movement Health 2030 in Africa, shared his thoughts on the ways in which Movement Health 2030 could help to address Africa’s systemic healthcare challenges. 

Healthcare infrastructure is not where it needs to be

Seth Akumani
Head of Exploration, UNDP Ghana’s Accelerator Lab

The early ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic exposed some of the healthcare challenges and gaps that exist in Africa’s current health system. Having been hospitalised with the virus early on in the pandemic, my experience brought me face to face with some of the broader challenges in healthcare – and the realisation that the healthcare infrastructure in Africa is not where it needs to be. We need to invest substantially in our diagnostic testing capacities and equip our healthcare facilities - especially those in the rural areas - with the resources they need to provide quality clinical care. It’s also crucial that we prioritise retaining healthcare professionals in Africa.

Africa has 24% of the world’s disease burden, but access to only 3% of the world’s doctors. This unequal balance, which places an enormous burden on our healthcare systems and our doctors, is just one issue that Movement Health can look to address.

Nurse and patient

Interestingly, we are also starting to track an increase in some healthcare conditions that were previously very foreign to us in Africa – lifestyle diseases, for instance. With more people crossing into the upper-middle class, there is a palpable shift to a more sedentary lifestyle, causing an increase in certain diseases, such as diabetes, respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, high blood pressure, and strokes. We are also noticing a surge in non-communicable diseases across the continent. WHO projects that by 2030, NCDs will become the leading cause of death in Sub-Saharan Africa, yet not enough attention is being paid to it. Currently, we are busy dousing the flames of COVID-19, and I fear these other diseases might turn into a creeping epidemic if we don’t address them while we still can. Movement Health will prioritise the above issues and work with a broad group of stakeholders to co-create and champion innovative solutions that address them after its launch.

Communication and collaboration are key

Policymakers can play an important role in addressing the gaps in current healthcare architectures, transforming healthcare for all. We need more from our policymakers. We need their willingness to stay the course and engage with private sector actors and development partners; their unique capacity to ensure there’s enough budgetary allocation to build the necessary healthcare infrastructure; and their enthusiasm and influence to bring more young people and innovators into the policymaking process. 

Africa is a vast continent and the birthplace of a wealth of innovative solutions being developed across its different terrains and cultures. But I have witnessed far too many innovations die slow deaths because of the lack of collaboration. We need to embrace the importance of sharing information and efforts via cross-country, cross-sector collaboration. Pharma, a healthtech start-up’s partnership with Jetstream (an African logistics company) to supply over 1 million COVID-19 test kits and materials in five African countries, is a testament to what’s possible when start-ups work together. We need to encourage such collaborations and look beyond competition since we share the same vision for a healthier world. This is what Movement Health embodies.

Patient session

If we join forces via Movement Health 2030 to scale innovative healthcare solutions across Africa’s variegated regions - and implement them well – it could have a huge impact. We aim to use the Movement Health platform to connect different organisations that can co-invest in solutions and address shared challenges. We will also build upon the research already undertaken as part of the Future Proofing Africa Sustainability Index. In Africa, we hold a gamut of distinct views but, ultimately, face the same universal challenges: we can only solve them by joining hands.

As the popular African proverb puts it: “if you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together”.