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‘Africa Health will provide an opportunity to showcase real investment opportunities to potential investors’

Speaking ahead of the 2018 Africa Health Exhibition & Congress scheduled to be held from May 29 to 31 at Johannesburg, South Africa, Hon. Sarah Opendi, State Minister for Health, Uganda, says in an interview with Arab Health Magazine that as an educated and growing middle class demands better quality healthcare, the major health market segments likely to expand across Africa are the pharmaceutical industry, speciality healthcare, infrastructure development, insurance, and diagnostics and laboratory. “Africa Health will therefore help to attract foreign direct investment in these sectors,” she adds.

Excerpts from the interview:

1. What are the top healthcare market predictions for Africa in 2018-19?

One of the main predictions for the African healthcare market in the year ahead is that the market will embrace technologies and innovations that can improve efficiency and access to healthcare like, for example, e-health.

We will also see the region give greater focus on affordable national health insurance to reduce out-of-pocket expenditure. One outcome of this is that most economies will embrace Public Private Partnerships to achieve universal health coverage, leading, in turn, to increased affordability of specialised care.

The year ahead will also see greater priority given to manufacture of pharmaceutical production.

Although majority of countries will continue to focus on communicable diseases such as HIV/AIDS, Malaria and TB in 2018-2019, major financing disparities will continue in comparison to disease burden as Africa accounts for over 11% of the global population; almost 25% of the global disease burden; just 1% of the global healthcare resources and only 3% of the global health workforce.

2. What are the key trends and growth opportunities affecting the African healthcare market? What are the major challenges as well as growth opportunities that you foresee in the immediate future?

Throughout Africa, we are currently witnessing an epidemiological shift with increased non-communicable diseases and life expectancy. As the purchasing power of the population is improving, countries are focusing on Public Private Partnership models in healthcare. Development partners are now moving towards impact financing from mainstream aid and the region is also investing in large health infrastructure developments.

Africa is characterised by an unmet need for specialised services and diagnostics. However, the growing availability of a skilled workforce to deliver quality healthcare across the region is a promising trend.

In addition, healthcare innovations are emerging as a key enabler of care delivery, and opportunities exist in digital health systems by using mobile phones as drivers for better healthcare outcomes.

Growth opportunities abound in several sectors in the healthcare industry. Chief amongst these are: health infrastructure, pharmaceutical production, laboratory and diagnostics, support sectors including water and energy, e-Health, healthcare insurance, specialised healthcare, and financial services such as private equity.

However, the expansion of these market segments is not without its challenges. Africa, as a whole, has its unique set of challenges as systemwide barriers impede healthcare delivery in the region. Some of the chief obstacles that prevent African countries from achieving better results include the lack of large capital investments, unaffordable healthcare, unpredictable political environment in the region, and the gradual transition from donor aid.

3. What, according to you, are some of the practical steps African countries can take to improve their national health systems?   

There is no denying that fundamental changes must occur within the African health system to bring about improved care in a real and substantial way. First and foremost, we need to strengthen national systems in terms of public expenditure management, governance, leadership and accountability. Sustainable financing of health can be ensured by making more deliberate and innovative ways in increasing domestic sources.

Embracing affordable healthcare insurance is another key element to improve the health system. While building partnerships with civil society and other partners will help expand access to medical care, there is also a vital need to invest in district and community health systems to fulfil our vision for a health-creating society.

The success of several Public Private Partnership models in transforming health services across Africa proves beyond doubt that this model of collaboration is key to improving healthcare provision. However, for it to continue to foster development, we need to scale up capacity in the health work force by providing opportunities for professional development and skills enhancement. There is also an increased need to encourage the vital build-up of strategic health infrastructure to meet the increased demand for services.

The adoption of new technologies across the continent to improve efficiency is offering unprecedented opportunities for improving health. Digital solutions, for instance, can bolster healthcare access and services across Africa at a fraction of the cost.

As we rethink Africa’s approach to health, we also need to align external funding to national priorities, programmes and systems. Finally, there is an urgent need to provide ample and affordable speciality care service to curb and reverse the current trend of medical tourism.

4. Could you highlight the main technologies to watch out for in Africa in the coming year/s?

In terms of technology, we have seen how mobile technologies and digital solutions can penetrate through the problems of geographical barriers and low resources. Digital health is therefore definitely changing healthcare delivery and access in Africa. The availability and penetration of Electronic Medical Records is also expected to increase in the coming years.

Gene therapy is also slowly emerging as a strategy to treat diseases caused by genetic abnormalities. Genome-editing technology has immense therapeutic potential in treating diseases by the repair of gene defects.

The growing incidence of non-communicable diseases will also require large-scale investments in diagnostic and imaging equipment for in-patient monitoring. In addition, provision of specialised care services will contribute to a stronger healthcare delivery system. 

Africa is also gearing towards achieving affordable medical insurance to provide everyone with access to quality health services at a reasonable cost. Greater coverage will certainly transform healthcare in Africa.

5. With respect to the private healthcare sector, what are the main emerging trends in Uganda?

In Uganda, the role of the private sector is significant in achieving healthcare coverage. There is increased private sector involvement in the implementation of healthcare facilities, greater investment in pharmaceutical production and the supply chain, and on new technology and innovation.

The private sector is also involved in infrastructure and other support sectors like water and energy. The implementation of public–private partnership policies and provision of incentives for investments has further promoted the private sector.

6. In which areas do you see scope for partnerships with private investors? How can the government encourage the private sector to increase investment into the healthcare system in Africa?

The chief areas for partnerships include contracting in service delivery and supply chain, pharmaceutical production, IT systems, health insurance, and infrastructure development.
Governments can support the private sector by providing investment of incentives and subsidies, fostering Public Private Partnerships, inclusion of the private sector in policy and planning, stabilisation of the political and economic environment for business, and promoting foreign direct investment.

7. What would you like investors and visitors around the world to know about the health sector in Uganda? What are the real benefits and opportunities that an event like Africa Health can provide to healthcare and trade professionals?

The health sector in Uganda is ready for large capital investment. The Government of Uganda has provided a conducive environment for foreign direct investment in the form of subsidies and market incentives, as well as a stable political and macroeconomic environment. Market players enjoy economies of scale from the regional market and the market has huge potential of expansion.

An event like Africa Health will provide an opportunity to showcase real investment opportunities in Uganda to potential investors and help to attract foreign direct investment in the sector. The event will also offer opportunities for shared learning on promoting the role of the private sector in achieving health-related Sustainable Development Goals.

The health sector has been contributing more significantly to the economy through creation of new jobs, expansion of manufacturing, medical tourism, innovation and technology. The sector should therefore be seen as a profitable area of social enterprise and a foreign exchange earner to the region.

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