Integrating Health in Africa: The Role of the Private Sector

Submitted by elombatd on Mon, 07/10/2019 - 11:21

Excellencies, honourable ministers, 

African Union Commissioner for Social Affairs Amira Elfadil 

Chairman of the Africa Healthcare Federation, Dr Amit Thakker, 

Distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen: 

Good morning! 

It is my pleasure to speak with you on the role of the private sector in integrating health in Africa and I would like to thank the Africa Health Business Symposium team for inviting me to share some ideas with you.

This symposium is such a unique and valuable opportunity for public and business leaders, with development partners, civil society representatives and policy-makers to have conversations, share knowledge, ideas and experiences, to address problems and to advance implementation of innovative ideas and new ways of working for better health.

At WHO, our number one priority is to support our member states to achieve universal health coverage – so that all people can access and afford the health care they need.

There has never been a more propitious moment for this discussion. When African countries joined the international community just last month, in adopting the political declaration of the high-level meeting on UHC at the UN General Assembly, they were re-affirming commitment which we have seen in the political decisions of national leaders and the actions of health ministers in the past couple of years.

This declaration calls for stronger partnership with the private sector in service delivery, medicines and technologies, research and development and other areas, and for all stakeholders to move together to build a healthier world.

In February, at the African Union Summit, Heads of State discussed investing in health and they adopted a declaration on increasing domestic financing.

They also discussed the private sector’s role and committed to working more closely together to improve health outcomes.

At this same summit, leaders in business in Africa working together with the UN Economic Commission for Africa, convened Heads of States to deepen discussion on this issue. Together, the UNECA, the Aliko Dangote Foundation and GBC Health launched the Africa Business Coalition for Health. This coalition will create a platform for ongoing high-level collaboration for mutual accountability and to encourage investment along the value chain of health.

Ladies and gentlemen: we know the private sector delivers over 50 percent of health services in Africa and that Governments have committed to work with business partners.

The private sector is clearly a key partner in achieving UHC, including:

  • by bringing in skills and different ways of working and managing that can benefit the public sector,
  • by advancing research and development to develop technologies, tools and products to improve health,
  • by expanding access to quality essential and specialized services for communities, and
  • by adding value in an increasing number of areas, such as supply chain and logistics, laboratories and diagnostics, and using communication technologies to access hard-to-reach communities.

I believe that working together, we can make these contributions help governments achieve UHC with attention to equity in access, affordability, greater efficiency and sustainability.

And to do this, we need conducive legal and policy environments and regulatory mechanisms, support to local industries, and importantly, we need to build more trust between and among sectors for strong leadership, effective partnerships and value for money, underpinned by mutual accountability for shared goals.

What this will mean in practical terms, in many countries in the Region, is the strengthening of health information systems to adequately capture data on private sector performance, and establishment of effective accountability frameworks.

And we need to build the capacity of ministries of health and the public sector generally, to engage effectively private sector partners and where necessary regulate private sector actions.

Financial management capacities across both sectors will be critical in ensuring sustainable and efficient service delivery. In many countries, small health-care providers lack the skills or resources for financial management and record keeping and this limits their ability to maintain their facility, and to attract financing to scale-up or provide higher quality services.

These bottlenecks must be addressed.

In thinking of the collective impact we can have, vulnerable populations need to be at the front of our minds. Universal health coverage means that people are protected from financial hardship when accessing health services. I am certain we can devise ways of combining return for investment for private sector actors with the aims of ensuring equity, affordability and sustainability that governments have clearly articulated, in a region where there remain significant gaps in financing for heath and where low-income households face financial, social and economic barriers in accessing services.

And we do have numerous examples of where the private sector is helping to address equity issues.

Many of you will recall that this was a big agenda item at the recently concluded World Health Assembly with a global action plan developed to ensure equitable access to affordable medicines.

In South Africa, the Government has developed a public-private partnership, called The BioVac Institute, geared towards ensuring communities have access to locally made affordable medicines and vaccines. Through technology transfer from pharmaceutical companies in the North, patented medicines are produced locally. The Institute is now exploring new vaccines to tackle conditions specific to the African context which would otherwise not be commercially attractive. This is going a long way towards ensuring equitable and affordable access to medicines.

In Togo the efficiency and quality of services delivered by some government hospitals has greatly improved, after the Government contracted companies to provide management services. This has led to increased revenues, increased availability of medicines, more satisfied patients and simply, more patients. At the same time, equity is being strengthened in the provision of services through monitoring compliance with procedure pricing. Financial risk protection mechanisms are now being developed to strengthen equity in access to services.

At WHO, we remain committed to continuously support countries:

  • to strengthen effective partnerships for health,
  • to put in place laws, regulatory frameworks and accountability systems to attract local and foreign investments in health,
  • to strengthen institutional capacity for policy dialogue with the private sector, and
  • to initiate innovative strategies such as corporate social responsibility.

Together, we should do more to protect low-income households and advance equity in communities.

WHO will continue to support engagement of the private sector, by documenting experiences across countries and analysing how we are progressing together towards UHC, including in terms of equity, affordability, profitability and sustainability.

In closing, I am proud that Africa is leading in this area – with governments and the private sector standing shoulder-to-shoulder and asking how we can do better together.

On behalf of the WHO Secretariat, I would like to assure you of our full commitment to collective action to make health for all people a reality in Africa.

I trust you will have incredibly insightful and interesting discussions during this symposium and I look forward to fruitful and productive collaborations going forward.

Thank you.