London UK: Lenias Hwenda is a global health policy expert with a passion for improving access to quality affordable treatments.
A conversation that we had at the FT Africa Summit 2015 had great relevance for healthcare services and treatment availability. The conversation was about the economic momentum that we have been hearing about in Africa. Delegates agreed that the momentum is real. In 2015, the region maintained its projected upward trajectory. Real GDP that was higher than the 3.1% for the global economy and 1.5% for the euro zone, and it remained the world’s second fastest growing economy after East Asia.
Delegates agreed that policies in the region are generally moving in the right direction which meant that the momentum so far achieved could be sustained. However, there were many things that still required improvement such as the development of infrastructure, energy, economic integration and cross boarder movement of people, goods and services.
Maintaining economic productivity requires a healthy population that can access quality affordable healthcare and treatments when they need them. When too few people can afford treatment, more people sink deeper into poverty just to get treated. Alternatively, they may choose to go without treatment at the risk of requiring more expensive interventions in the future, or they risk losing their economic productivity.
Therefore, whilst the story of progress is uplifting particularly for us Africans, we must remember that economic growth does not automatically translate into the social outcomes that we would like to see. Our challenge as a continent is how we turn the steady economic resilience that our continent has shown into better lives for millions of African people who currently live in poverty. The continent’s population is set to double by 2050, and this will present both challenges and opportunities for the development of African economies.
In healthcare, the rising population, positive economic trends, urbanization, improving living standards and growing individual purchasing power is expanding medical needs and the number of people in need of both preventive and therapeutic medications. The region has a growing middle class that is facing a soaring burden of diseases. Whilst some have a greater purchasing power, most people do not, but all people seek quality, safe and effective medicines to improve their quality of life. However, outside of donor supported areas, these treatments are often either too expensive or not available.
Meeting this challenge using public procurement infrastructure that is inefficient and dated will continue to be a challenge unless we address institutional barriers resulting from a lack of institutional experience to operate efficient systems. Therefore, development of infrastructure is key. There is a limit to what the governments can do alone. It is possible to complement government limitations to create efficiencies by getting the public and private sector to work together. Market efficiencies would help countries improve the availability of quality medicines at a cost that is affordable to the people. Combined with better social protection policies, this would enable more people to remain economically productive to the greater benefit of nations and economies. If countries cannot ensure optimal productivity of our greatest asset, the human capital, achieving the development goals that we along with our international partners have set ourselves may prove difficult.
We would not require all 54 countries to engage at the same time. All we would need is a few countries to take ownership of developing infrastructure and systems needed to improve. In doing so, an important driver of economic development is going to come from the private sector, led by entrepreneurs. There are a lot of bright ideas and hard work, but also challenges. A major challenge is the lack of support for entrepreneurs and getting the money to where the ideas are. However, if we can galvanise people from all walks of life - governments, multinational corporations and private citizens to work together towards development of solutions that are sustainable, scalable and suited to our contexts, it will be possible to overcome these challenges to ensure healthy populations that can help us build stronger economies.