Across Africa low government spending on health has led to familiar tales of poor infrastructure and medical facilities, delayed treatments, misdiagnosed conditions and mismanagement, leading to a growing number of preventable deaths.
Growing up in Nigeria, I saw the serious implications of the health crisis firsthand. Patients usually have to travel long distances and wait several days for often mediocre healthcare, which can cost a family’s entire budget. My mother had a decade-long battle with accessing care. Today she still suffers from the effects of misdiagnosed conditions and poorly administered procedures.
Africa faces a disease burden that is unmatched globally, with 25% of the world’s disease cases occurring in the continent. And some diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease are projected to rise significantly.
However, UK companies are helping to improve several different healthcare sectors in Africa, which is leading to a reduction in the rate of morbidity and mortality. The World Bank is asking the private sector to improve services and help save lives by introducing first-class healthcare into Africa, which is giving UK, and other international businesses a huge opportunity to scale internationally and bolster African healthcare.
UK companies are taking action and making a difference to the African healthcare. Let’s look at the issues they are tackling in more detail
Africa’s pharmaceutical industry is one of the fastest growing in the world, increasing from US$4.7 billion in 2003 to US$20.8 billion in 2013. The demand for over-the-counter medicines, medical devices and prescription medications is projected to grow between 6% and 11% over the next five years.
In spite of the growth forecast, the industry faces several challenges that will stifle its growth.
A recent report by the World Health Organisation (WHO) shows that 1-in-10 (10%) medications in circulation in Africa is substandard. This means people are being treated with medications that fail to treat or prevent a disease. This is causing serious illness and even death. It is estimated that fake anti-malarials, for example, contribute to 116,000 additional deaths a year from malaria in Sub-Saharan Africa alone.
There is lack of experts to conduct clinical research and develop novel medicines to tackle the growing disease burden on the continent. A contributory factor is the enormous brain drain of specialists to developed economies, leaving behind an industry overloaded with newly qualified professionals with little or no clinical research experience.
The regulation of Africa’s pharmaceutical marketplace and development of new medicines is far from standardised. This means the industry’s fragmented supply chain is rife with substandard drugs.
UK pharmaceutical companies are expanding their operations to Africa, to help deal with some of the aforementioned problems and also combat a range of infectious and non-communicable diseases plaguing the continent.
One of such is Morningside Pharmaceuticals Ltd.
Morningside Pharmaceuticals Ltd is an award-winning innovator and manufacturer of high-quality generic and branded medicines, as well as healthcare products, to the UK and international export markets.
It has set-up local manufacturing facilities in Africa to ensure the supply of cost-effective quality medicines is improved and maintained to hospitals and pharmacies.
Diagnostics services, either through pathology in laboratories, or imaging like scanning, ultrasound and radiology, play a vital role in spotting health problems and informing medical interventions. They are also critical in identifying changing disease patterns that come about from changes in lifestyle, migration and population growth. These patterns often result in viral, bacterial and parasitic infections emerging in countries where they were rarely seen before.
Early diagnosis can increase the chances of a positive outcome, helping to improve the lives of patients and save costs of further treatment. Additionally, diagnostics also play a vital role in patients’ ongoing care programs.
In sub-Saharan Africa, around 12 million people die every year and, for the majority of individuals, the causes of death are largely un-investigated. These un-investigated deaths are generally attributed to infectious diseases, most commonly HIV infection, malaria, and tuberculosis, but, in the absence of laboratory confirmation, the accuracy of these estimates remains uncertain.
Laboratories lack cutting-edge equipment and expertise. As a
result, they cannot keep up with diagnostic demands and fall short of accurate
diagnosis and early treatment. Access to reliable diagnostic testing is
severely limited in the continent, and misdiagnosis is common.
In Nigeria, the accuracy of clinical diagnoses of typhoid fever, when compared with laboratory culture confirmation, was around 50%, and the diagnosis of bacterial meningitis was overlooked in 24% of Kenyan children when a clinical syndromic approach was applied alone. The presumptive diagnosis of tuberculosis can also be nonspecific. One study found evidence of tuberculosis infection in only 52% of 229 patients with suspected tuberculosis in Botswana.
In many cases in sub-Saharan Africa, it appears that diagnosis based on clinical symptoms alone, without the support of basic diagnostic tests, is the rule rather than the exception and leads to inappropriate treatment, increased morbidity, and unnecessary loss of life.
A UK business blazing the trail in diagnostics is Randox.
A global leader within the in-vitro diagnostics industry, Randox Laboratories develops diagnostic solutions for hospitals, clinical, research and molecular labs, food testing, forensic toxicology, veterinary labs and life sciences. They have a laboratory in Africa and help doctors get accurate diagnoses for their patients.
Access to quality healthcare in Africa is a major problem; a recent study by Gallop concluded that 57% of the population have poor or no access to patient-first, quality care.
People in sub-Saharan Africa have the worst health, on average, in the world. With less than 1% of global health expenditure and only 3% of the world’s health workers.
Africa accounts for almost half the world’s deaths of children under five, has the highest maternal mortality rate, and bears a heavy toll from HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria.
The region lacks the infrastructure to provide basic health care to many of its people and the absence of preventive and primary care significantly contributes to the problem.
Horrifying accounts of deferred treatments, in-accurate diagnosis of patients conditions, and wrongly administered surgeries has led to patients losing confidence in the healthcare system and seeking advanced health care solution abroad.
The outbound African medical tourism market is experiencing exponential growth with over 650,00 patients going abroad for treatment in 2015; generating a market value of $3.8bn.
A UK company that aims to make a difference in the primary health care delivery system is Medics2You.
Medics2You gives patients control of their health by providing immediate access to world-class doctors and specialist, via a smart device, anytime, anywhere, to deliver quality patient-centred care with measurable outcomes.
They are pioneering the delivery of a hybrid telehealth care service by setting up local tech-enabled hubs; an extension of their mobile platform, to provide consultations, investigations and pharmacy services.
The World Bank is challenging the private sector step up and help save lives. UK companies are using their expertise and technical knowhow to find innovative way to make a difference, reduce the healthcare crisis and provide the improved health that Africans need.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Henry Etukumoh is the founder of Medics2You, a ‘tech for good’ business that aims to transform the way African patients access cutting-edge primary care, save lives, and improve the life expectancy of millions.
Having grown-up in Nigeria, Etukumoh has personally witnesses the serious implications of inadequate healthcare.
Medics2You uses a hybrid telehealth platform to connect patients in Africa with world class doctors and specialists, deliver medication to patient’s doors, and provide referrals to local and international accredited specialists and hospitals.