Africa faces a disease burden that is unmatched globally, with 25% of the world’s disease cases occurring in the continent.
Non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes accounted for 28% of illnesses and 35% of deaths in 1990. This is projected to rise to 60% and 65%, respectively, by 2020.
Having grown-up in Nigeria, I’ve seen the serious implications of the health crisis. Patients usually have to travel long distances and wait several days for often mediocre healthcare, which can cost a family’s entire budget. My mother had a decade-long battle with accessing care and still suffers from the effects of misdiagnosed conditions and poorly administered procedures.
Sadly, such stories are common in Nigeria and across Africa.
The World Bank is asking the private sector to improve services and help save lives by introducing first-class healthcare into Africa, which is giving UK, and other international businesses a huge opportunity to scale internationally and bolster African healthcare.
Here’s how UK companies are stepping in to make a difference in the African healthcare sector:
Africa’s pharmaceutical industry is one of the fastest growing in the world, increasing from US$4.7 billion in 2003 to US$20.8 billion in 2013. The demand for over-the-counter medicines, medical devices and prescription medications is projected to grow between 6% and 11% over the next five years.
In spite of the growth forecast, the industry faces several challenges that will stifle its growth.
a) Counterfeit medication
A recent report by the World Health Organisation (WHO) shows that 1-in-10 (10%) medications in circulation in Africa is substandard. It is estimated that fake anti-malarials, for example, contribute to 116,000 additional deaths a year from malaria in Sub-Saharan Africa alone.
b) Shortage of specialists
There is lack of experts to conduct clinical research and develop novel medicines to tackle the growing disease burden on the continent. A contributory factor is the enormous brain drain of specialists to developed economies, leaving behind an industry overloaded with newly qualified professionals with little or no clinical research experience.
The regulation of Africa’s pharmaceutical marketplace and development of new medicines is far from standardised. This means the industry’s fragmented supply chain is rife with substandard drugs.
UK pharmaceutical companies are expanding their operations to Africa, to help deal with some of these problems and also combat a range of infectious and non-communicable diseases.
For example, Morningside Pharmaceuticals Ltd is an award-winning innovator and manufacturer of high-quality generic and branded medicines, as well as healthcare products. It has set-up local manufacturing facilities in Africa to ensure the supply of cost-effective quality medicines is improved and maintained to hospitals and pharmacies.
Diagnostics services, either through pathology in laboratories, or imaging like scanning, ultrasound and radiology, play a vital role in spotting health problems and informing medical interventions.
Early diagnosis can increase the chances of a positive outcome, helping to improve the lives of patients and save costs of further treatment. Diagnostics also play a vital role in patients’ ongoing care programs. Unfortunately access to reliable diagnostic testing is severely limited in the continent, and misdiagnosis is common.
To take two examples: in Nigeria, the accuracy of clinical diagnoses of typhoid fever, when compared with laboratory culture confirmation, was around 50%, and the diagnosis of bacterial meningitis was overlooked in 24% of Kenyan children when a clinical syndromic approach was applied alone.
A UK business blazing the trail in diagnostics is Randox. A global leader within the in-vitro diagnostics industry, Randox Laboratories develops diagnostic solutions for hospitals, clinical, research and molecular labs.
Further, they focus on food testing, forensic toxicology, veterinary labs and life sciences. They have a laboratory in Africa and help doctors get accurate diagnoses for their patients.
Access to quality healthcare in Africa is a major problem; a recent study by Gallop concluded that 57% of the population have poor or no access to patient-first, quality care.
People in sub-Saharan Africa have the worst health, on average, in the world. With less than 1% of global health expenditure and only 3% of the world’s health workers.
Africa accounts for almost half the world’s deaths of children under five, has the highest maternal mortality rate, and bears a heavy toll from HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria.
The outbound African medical tourism market is experiencing exponential growth with over 650,00 patients going abroad for treatment in 2015; generating a market value of $3.8bn.
A UK company that aims to make a difference in the primary health care delivery system is Medics2You.
Medics2You gives patients control of their health by providing immediate access to world-class doctors and specialist, via a smart device, anytime, anywhere, to deliver quality patient-centred care with measurable outcomes.
They are pioneering the delivery of a hybrid telehealth care service by setting up local tech-enabled hubs; an extension of their mobile platform, to provide consultations, investigations and pharmacy services.
Africans need better healthcare – and UK companies are well placed to offer this. With advanced technology and expertise, UK businesses are finding innovative ways to solve the health crisis on the continent. The scale of the challenge is huge, and the World Bank is asking the private sector to improve services and help save lives by helping to introduce first-class healthcare into Africa. This gives UK businesses, which want to make a difference in the world, a huge opportunity to scale internationally.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Henry Etukumoh is the founder of Medics2You, a ‘tech for good’ business that aims to transform the way African patients access cutting-edge primary care, save lives, and improve the life expectancy of millions.
Having grown-up in Nigeria, Etukumoh has personally witnesses the serious implications of inadequate healthcare.
Medics2You uses a hybrid telehealth platform to connect patients in Africa with world class doctors and specialists, deliver medication to patient’s doors, and provide referrals to local and international accredited specialists and hospitals.