Webinar recap: health infrastructures in Africa
by: Dr. Lynsey Farrell, Director of the Lauder Africa Program & Senior Lecturer, Anthropology
Despite dire predictions in February and March, countries across Africa are doing remarkably well in their battle against the spread of COVID-19. The explanations for these more positive outcomes have ranged from the political to the biological. One explanation is that African nations have adeptly dealt with epidemics like Ebola and cholera, ensuring the population is prepared to act quickly and make sacrifices to stop the spread. Another explanation focuses on Africa’s demographics – young people dominate densely populated cities while the elderly are settled in sparse rural areas. Some researchers are even exploring the possibility that previous exposure to coronaviruses may have enabled antibody resistance to COVID-19 in some populations.
Despite this good news, challenges in the health sector in most African countries remain. For many, it is a difficult choice between expensive private services and under-resourced public options. In Kenya, just 20% of the population has some form of insurance, including the national health insurance. In the capital Nairobi, this figure is 41%, but in some more rural and remote regions, health insurance coverage and access is closer to 0.
To understand more about the realities of health systems in the East Africa region today, the Lauder Institute’s Africa program organized a webinar in September 2020, which focused on how public and private entities are presently navigating precarity and opportunity on the continent. Among our distinguished guest speakers, we had Dr. Noelle Sullivan, Associate Professor of Instruction in Global Health at Northwestern University, Dr. Moka Lantum of tech-enabled clinic CheckUps Medical, Dr. Wilmot Allen of VentureLift Africa and surprise guest Wharton Senior Fellow, Dr. Stephen Sammut.
Here are some highlights:
Healthcare workers meet funding gaps through hospital side hustles
The reality for many health centers and institutions is that a scarcity of steady and reliable resources has driven healthcare workers to find alternative livelihoods, or “side hustles,” to solve resource needs in unlikely ways. Noelle Sullivan shared about her longitudinal study with healthcare workers at government clinics in Tanzania who, in the absence of steady or consistent funding, find ways to bring much needed capital into their institutions.
The next step in investments will be collective
COVID-19 has showcased how African businesses navigate resilience in the face of uncertainty, but the solutions may not be sustainable over the long-term. Wilmot Allen, who has worked at the intersection of investment and government response, is focusing his efforts on the next phase of health care infrastructure which will involve a collective effort from multiple sectors.
Health enterprises outpace government in reliability and adaptation
African healthcare has largely focused on the investments that have come via partnerships for global health initiatives to combat communicable diseases like malaria, HIV/Aids and TB. There are big gaps in the prevention and care of non-communicable diseases like diabetes and heart disease that increase risk factors for those who contract the novel coronavirus. Moka Lantum shared how his company is pivoting and adapting to meet the challenge.
Investments need to focus on African-led capacity building
Healthcare in Africa is rapidly changing. Foreign aid and development agendas are being reshaped to change the public and private provision of health services on the continent. Dr. Stephen Sammut shared how this shift in thinking can maximize African innovation.