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Why data is key to strengthening African healthcare

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Interview with Estelle Mbadiwe, Founding Partner, Ducit Blue Solutions, and Omnia Health Live Africa speaker.

In May 2020, the WHO warned of 190,000 people in Africa dying in the event of COVID-19 pandemic containment measures failing. Five months later, experts are stunned by the continent’s low fatality count, along with hospital admissions that continue to fall.

Africa has “really, really responded to this quite well,” said Estelle Mbadiwe, pharmacist and founding partner of Abuja healthcare consultancy Ducit Blue Solutions to Omnia Health Insights, an achievement she attributed to effective coordination between the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) and African Union. 

In her native Nigeria in particular, she highlighted the efforts of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and its director general Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, who began a preparedness approach before the pandemic that encompassed public health emergency operations centres (PHEOCs) and other strategies. 

However, this approach alone was not enough, and Nigeria – like other countries – had to pivot to effectively respond to the crisis. In this regard the leadership of the coordinating body NCDC and the Minister of Health, with the launch of a presidential taskforce proved critical (Mbadiwe indicated that some things could have been handled better, for example the delayed closure of entry points into the country).

These successful partnerships and collaborations across African nations leave Mbadiwe highly optimistic in terms of building the Africa of the future, not only in the healthcare space, but beyond. 

The qualities are there: the leadership strengths (she highlighted the example of Uganda for its pandemic response), a large young population, and innovation. The challenge is galvanising all moving parts at once. 

She believes that data is the missing ingredient to making this happen – data that can help cement any current understanding of the health situation. Yet presently only a small amount of information is analysed, the tip of a big iceberg, but the data under this remains overlooked.

Through pulling the data and using it to assess where the gaps are and points of strength in different countries, healthcare officials will be able to make better informed decisions beyond public health emergencies that include developing other healthcare strategies and building a health system.

It’s a challenge that Mbadiwe’s company Ducit Blue Solutions is excited about the opportunity to support: identifying weaknesses in the healthcare system and building capacity holistically to address our unique challenges.

Of course, any capacity building exercise also requires political will, to address issues like financing, accountability and governance for example. 

Yet Mbadiwe believes that the opportunity to rebuild healthcare and indeed strengthen the nation is a timely one, in part because Nigeria has just passed a symbolic milestone - 60 years of independence - and is now looking ahead to the future with increased confidence. 

Yet whatever the vision, she conceded, it must last longer than Nigeria’s four year election cycle, and ensure that all stakeholders and people are aligned – no easy feat.

In the short term there is still the matter of a pandemic to deal with. In response to reports that African scientists are concerned that vaccines developed in the West aren’t taking into account the Africa context, Mbadiwe agreed that it was important that the continent was “at the table” to assert what was best for its citizens in terms of protecting its systems and populations while in line with the global strategy. 

As a pharmacist, it was a problem she was familiar with. She explained that when post marketing surveillance is carried out for medication, it doesn’t always translate well into the Africa context. Climate, environment, population, food and a variety of other nuances would affect what and how people could respond  to vaccines and treatment.

In the even shorter term, Mbadiwe is looking forward to listening to as many sessions as possible during Omnia Health Live Africa to develop an understanding of what others are doing in their sphere of influence, from leaders to specialists, and the challenges they are currently facing. She added that she hopes for opportunities to collaborate after the virtual event to learn more. 

Mbadiwe will be moderating an Omnia Health Live Africa session on Bridging the gap in communicable diseases: The Future of Infection Prevention & Control (IPC), joined by Dr Tochi Okwor and Dr Abiodun Egwuenu of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control; and Prof Folasade Ogunsola of Lagos University Teaching Hospital.

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