What should be done to fix gaps in Africa’s healthcare system?

On 30 November 2021 at 10:07

The recent Rwanda Global Healthcare Summit that ran from 18th to 21st November 2021 at Kigali Convention Centre, provided a room for discussions on solutions to address challenges that continue to hold back Africa’s health sector.

The meeting brought together health experts, medicines manufacturing plants, health services providers and different officials including ministers, health experts, hospital managers and procurement officers among others with a view to seek together the solution for the shortage of drugs on the African continent.

Africa lags behind other continents with gaps in health services, equipment and shortage of health care professionals.

Figures from the World Health Organization (WHO) show that six million people from Sub-Saharan African countries die over the shortage of Malaria, Tuberculosis and antiretroviral drugs.

Apart from the scarcity of pharmaceuticals, there are more factors affecting Africa’s health sector including inadequate health facilities, health care professionals, water shortage at health centers and low penetration of technology among others.

Considering devastating impact of these gaps, participants called for policies designed to advance the progress of Africa’s health sector and tackle shortages of pharmaceuticals, healthcare professionals to become self-reliant instead of sticking to foreign aids and imports.

Investment in the manufacturing of pharmaceuticals

Although pharmaceutical products are currently manufactured in countries like South Africa, Kenya, Morocco and Egypt, Africa currently imports more than 80 per cent of its pharmaceutical and medical consumables.

The Resident Representative of Belgian Development Agency, Enabel in Rwanda, Dirk Deprez said that the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCTA) presents huge opportunities for African entrepreneurs to invest in the manufacturing of pharmaceuticals.

“We should consider other economic benefits when we talk about investment. I was surprised to hear that 99% of vaccines and 94% of pharmaceuticals used in Africa are imported. The research conducted by Goldstein [a leading provider of market research services and a series of other research and analysis services] indicated that the continent’s pharmaceuticals’ market share is valued at US$28.5 billion expected to double in 2030,” he said.

Deprez explained that investing in pharmaceutical plants will save lives, generate returns and create more jobs in Africa.

Dr. Dhiren Thakker, the founder of Med Aditus International, a nonprofit corporation that aspires to be a positive force in creating access to medicine for underserved patients in Sub-Saharan Africa said that the continent faces shortages of drugs for non-communicable diseases like Cancer, Diabetis, heart complications, children and neglected diseases.

He revealed that the organization plans to set up plants manufacturing such medicinal products starting with Rwanda and Kenya.

“We are holding discussions on the establishment of such plants. The study is underway and we have already identified types of pharmaceuticals to be manufactured. The remaining task is to mobilize enough funds be it from the United States, Europe and African countries so that we can begin operations by 2022,” said Dr. Thakker.

Embracing technology to foster innovations

The Director General of Rwanda Biomedical Center (RBC), Dr. Sabin Nsanzimana emphasized that creating innovations in the health sectors is of great significance considering the fact that new pandemics are emerging as time evolves.

“As far as I am concerned, creating innovations is about providing solutions to address contemporary challenges. Besides, we should not use same solutions all the times. The end-goal might be the same but using unique techniques because we don’t share the same lifestyles with other continents,” Dr. Sabin noted.

The Executive Director of Partners in Health, Dr. Joel Mubiligi has said that available human beings have never run short of ideas and innovations witnessed through scientific discoveries and creation of new technologies.

He said that the huge gap lies in failure to share knowledge with others to a desired extent.

Zipline ,a drone firm delivering blood supplies to hospitals is an example of what technology and innovations are poised to offer.

Sineka Samuel Siabnaa, the Head of Health Systems Integration at Zipline Rwanda explained that the company strives to facilitate access to health services.

To make health services accessible, he said that Zipline worked with Partners in Health during COVID-19 lockdowns to deliver cancer drugs to patients.

Promoting research and education

The world has a deficit of health workers particularly the Sub-Sahara African countries where the level of health workforce density stands at 2.3 per 1000 people against the minimum 4.5 per 1000 people recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Prof Ramneek Ahluwalia, the CEO of Higher Health, an organization that works in seven key areas to promote the health and wellbeing of students across South Africa’s public universities and technical and vocational training colleges, said that Africa has the highest prevalence of people suffering from Malaria, Tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and child mortality among others but lags behind other continents in terms of education programs, research, sciences and manufacturing of new pharmaceuticals.

He explained that Africa can hardly achieve healthcare that par with international quality measures if no action is taken.

Prof. Ahluwalia said that the continent is currently designing policies to overcome effects of COVID-19 yet other parts of the world continue moving forward.

According to Deprez from Enabel, Africans’ health conditions continue to deteriorate due to inadequate research.

He stressed need for increased research on neglected diseases, and training to up-skill health workers.

Improved hygiene at health facilities

Lack of hygiene can cause a multitude of adverse effects, such as hospital-acquired infections among others.

Maurice Kwizera, the Country Representative of WaterAid Rwanda has said that some health centers face water shortage and have no places designated for waste disposal.

“Water, hygiene and sanitation are central to improved health. Globally, one out of four health facilities had no access to water by the time COVID-19 emerged. One out of three health facilities had no hand washing facility in laboratories and maternity wards among others while 10% did not have decent latrines,” he said.

Kwizera called for concerted efforts between governments, donors and other stakeholders to address this issue at different health centers and hospitals worldwide.

Deepening partnerships

Dr. Sabin Nsanzimana, the Director General of RBC told participants of the summit that collaboration with relevant stakeholders was a central element for Rwanda’s response to COVID-19. He called for partnerships so that health sectors across the world can make a step further to defeat COVID-19 and other diseases.

Dr. Nsanzimana revealed that the establishment of first National Reference Laboratory (NRL) for COVID-19 tests is among fruits of collaboration with other countries because Rwanda did not have enough resources by the time the pandemic emerged.

Organized by Be still Investment, a Zimbabwean Non-Government Organization operating in Rwanda, the first edition of Rwanda Global HealthCare summit was held in 2019.

Participants of the recently concluded Rwanda Global Healthcare Summit during a panel discussion.