August 2014 marks the first US-Africa Leaders Summit, which is being held in Washington DC. US President Barack Obama, in the wake of his 2010 and 2013 visits to Africa, will strengthen ties and foster continued development in the Sub-Saharan continent.
In a presentation on August 4th, hosted by the Corporate Council on Africa (CCA), CEO of GE Healthcare John Dineen highlighted the importance of continuing to improve healthcare services across Africa, and the challenges that remain to be tackled.
Dineen echoed the Summit’s objectives for “transforming healthcare in Africa,” emphasizing the need for infrastructure development and the adoption of new and relevant healthcare technologies.
While Sub-Saharan Africa is home to some of the world’s fastest growing economies, the continent carries almost a quarter of the planet’s disease burden. Up to 70 percent of Africa’s population is deprived of access to basic healthcare, with maternal/infant mortality and non-communicable diseases (NCDs) being among the biggest challenges to progress. 1
“We need to think differently,” said Dineen. “One size does not fit all.”
“You can’t simply ‘de-spec’ technology made elsewhere in the world and expect it to work across African countries. Technology must be the right design, price point and specification to be valuable and deliver the expected outcomes.”
NCDs are not the main cause of death in Africa, but estimates from the World Health Organization (WHO) predict that, by 2020, NCDs such as cardiovascular and respiratory disorders will overtake HIV/AIDS and malaria as the continent’s biggest threats to health.2 Dineen expressed that it is therefore imperative to deal with NCDs before they become endemic.
It is hoped that widespread implementation of technologies to combat maternal/infant mortality and NCDs in Africa could come about by working closely with the CCA’s Health Program, linking investors with the best opportunities for healthcare development in the region.
Examples of past successes were used to illustrate the potential for improvement in Africa’s healthcare systems. Earlier in 2014, a first-of-its kind partnership with USAID and the Nigerian Federal Ministry of Health was established, called the healthymagination Mother & Child Initiative. The program worked to broaden the availability of ultrasound scanning and clinician training in an effort to reduce maternal/infant mortality in Nigeria, a country where the mortality rate is three times higher than in Indonesia. Over 300 healthcare professionals have been trained so far.
Dineen used the example to reiterate the message that strengths must be built upon and investments in healthcare must focus on long term outcomes. He said, “We are seeing increased government and private investment on healthcare across Africa, from the introduction of healthcare systems and major infrastructure projects through to smaller clinics and training to develop skills and services.”
“We already have 2,500 employees in Africa, with training and repair centers up and running, and more to come.”
1 – GE Healthcare research