How public and private sectors can work together to prepare African healthcare for the next pandemic

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Harnessing public and private strengths can build African healthcare resilience, according to Africa Health 2021 speakers.

A rivalry between both private and public healthcare sectors was diminished, at least temporarily, when the pandemic hit the African continent, as everyone was looking for solutions, said a panel of healthcare professionals during the third day of Africa Health 2021.

“What struck me was the cooperation between public and private sectors. Both came together to strengthen healthcare in an unprecedented way,” said Dr Olujimi Coker, CEO, Lagoon Hospitals in Nigeria during the session Building a resilient healthcare system in Africa.

Dr Coker said that the private sector often has the business knowledge and discipline and capability to properly execute projects, while the public sector owns the process, licenses and pathways in which the business can function.

“Harnessing the two strengths are important. We have the ability and knowledge, while the government has the capacity,” he said. He nonetheless cautioned “during the pandemic, there was a shared goal; after the pandemic, things digress, and people go back.”

Jens Dommel, Head of Healthcare for Europe, Middle East and Africa at Amazon Web Services (AWS), commented that the quickest and most effective progress derives from governments not only open to starting the conversation with tech companies, but willing to solve problems.

“Governments are important because they architect guidelines, which eases up finding solutions,” he said. 

Dommel highlighted the challenge of developing a combination that included a partnership with human resource development and with the right tech approach. 

“Due to the shared challenge of the pandemic, we wanted to find a solution instead of defining what the solution looked like,” he added.

The AWS executive further explained that cloud technology was able to support this because the infrastructure was available. Vaccine companies, for example, were able to combine cloud technology with research and get to scale the outcome. 

Working together to grow capabilities

Panellists agreed that building capabilities to prepare the African continent for the next pandemic was the most important priority facing public-private partnerships. 

“As we move to universal health coverage and think of health, we need to bring the private sector along, as they have the quality, and human resource is managed better,” said Professor Glenda E. Gray, President and CEO, South African Medical Research Council.  

Professor Gray pointed out, however, the need for the private sector to embrace the concept that everyone has the right for medical treatment. 

“These models [public private partnership] don't work well when there is no clear governance framework. We see them work when there is a shared goal,” said Dr Boitumelo Semete-Makokotlela, the CEO of the South African Health Products Regulator. She added that there must be a “champion” for the initiative to work effectively. 

Dr Semete-Makokotlela said building Africa’s manufacturing capacity was a key learning from the experience of COVID. “It's a whole ecosystem that we need to look at right,” she said. “We really need to think about it holistically across the value chain.” 

Like other panellists, she advocated focusing on building components of partnerships and collaboration to help prepare Africa for the next pandemic. Expanding on skills and strengthening infrastructure are vital for the survival of the continent, she continued. 

Bringing in equity

Professor Gray stressed the importance of bringing equity into the private sector. She said that the private sector must learn to support rural areas and the poor. 

“We need a health system that is resilient, equitable, data driven and with quality,” she said, adding “for future resilience we need good governance and good finance.”

Dr Semete-Makokotlela said that while equity was important, it also remains critical to think and learn to utilise the limited resources available, questioning “What can we do remotely, and how can technology enable us to utilise limited resources?”

Register to attend Africa Health 2021 (25-29 October 2021) for free. 

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