By Mary Hearty

Africa is increasingly recognizing health as a key aspect of human and economic development with countries increasing investment in actions and reforms to improve health outcomes.

With regards to this, leaders across the region have emphasized the need to strengthen public-private partnerships in order to scale up financing for health.

“We need to talk with each other, we need to have a regional integration within our healthcare system to promote investment in healthcare industries to collaborate with the member states and stakeholders in strengthening the capacity of our institutions to quickly and effectively control disease threats,” Dr Amany Asfour, President of the Africa Union Business Council highlighted during the Africa Union Private Sector Investment in Health Dialogue in Nairobi, Kenya.

“This is the time that we need business linkages among ourselves in order to make Africa a free trade area, but this will never happen without the private sector.”

Dr Asfour stated that health in Africa is a huge cornerstone for development, and so, there is need to identify business and investment opportunities in the health sector as the continent has a lot of investors and financing but lacks understanding on what the investment is and how this can be done.

“It is really about how we focus ourselves to manufacture our own vaccines, pharmaceuticals, promote our scientific research and technology and link it with industrialization because until we do that, we go nowhere. We can achieve this through collaboration between the public and private sectors,” she explained.

She further noted that it is time Africa leverages on the existing scientific research institutions and universities, and invest in African brains in research and innovation in the commercialization of pharmaceuticals and manufacturing of our own vaccines, pointing out that at the moment, research done are commercialized outside Africa.

In addition Dr. Asfour observed that there are several pharmaceuticals on the continent yet medical supplies are imported.

Dr Amit Thakker, Chairperson of the African Healthcare Federation, one of the delegates during the dialogue also called for collaboration between the public and private sector.

He noted that Africans can compete amongst themselves but should collaborate to become a global force in the areas that each is good at. “This is the beginning of the public-private dialogue and the goodwill that is going to change lives of the people on the continent,” Dr Thakker said.

“The only way to make healthcare indicators improve across the 1.3 billion population is not to leave out half the team. Almost half of the care and services are provided by the private sector in Africa. It is important that both private and public sector work together to lift the burden of diseases.”

Meanwhile, Dr Thakker called for Africa to start thinking of its own self-sufficiency around the healthcare system to make its people more resilient against health threats that come their way.

This, he said can be done by involving and increasing diverse set of investors with different expectations of returns from philanthropists and foundations to impact investors, financial institutions, among others, using various mechanisms to raise funds and stimulate action but also catalyzing a range of innovative financing mechanisms to bring in private sector capital.

Consequently, a greater cooperation between public and private sectors can create synergies for delivering sustainable, effective, efficient and equitable health for all, and safeguard the health security of the people.

Gaps in private sector

Dr Margareth Ndomondo-Sigonda, Head of the African Medicines Regulatory Harmonization (AMRH) initiative at Africa Union Development Agency (AUDA NEPAD) who represented Nardos Bekele-Thomas, the Chief Executive Officer, AUDA-NEPAD during the dialogue said a key challenge facing the private sector investment in health is inadequate understanding of the viable opportunities for investment in health.

“Health is predominantly viewed as a social sector, and investment opportunities in health are not being well analyzed and defined partly due to inadequate data and limited skills by financial institutions,” Dr Ndomondo-Sigonda clarified.

The importance of the private sector in advancing economic development in any country can never be over-emphasized, particularly in the healthcare development system in developing countries, she noted.

Dr Ndomondo-Sigonda  noted that health system financing is one of the key areas that offer important opportunities to translate commitments such as the Abuja Declaration and political will into results.

Therefore, she termed the private sector health dialogue as an important milestone to the continent. Private sector involvement in health encompasses a complex range of activities carried out by private actors including private companies, non-governmental organizations (NGO) and charitable foundations.

In most developing countries, Dr Ndomondo-Sigonda also stated that private sector engagement in health is restrained to healthcare service delivery comprising the direct provision of health services, management of healthcare facilities, providing auxiliary services and little engagement in the training of healthcare courses, manufacturing of medical products, equipment and other healthcare goods, among others.

“It is our hope that engagement with the private sector will enable acknowledgement in private sector contribution, diversifying resources and improving the efficiency and effectiveness of health systems through investments,” she noted.

Dr Ndomondo-Sigonda  also emphasized that it is an undisputable fact that governments alone cannot transform healthcare delivery systems without the participation of private actors, noting that strong governance, structures and mechanisms are central for effective private sector engagement in health.

In countries where private sector engagement in health has advanced, they have robust governance environment constituting relevant and progressive policies, legislation, regulation, investment strategies, government academia, and industry linkages to advance research and development, and strong industry coalition structures.