Celebrating African leadership in healthcare

African Healthcare Opportunity

The healthcare sector in Africa can be considered a major growth opportunity for two main reasons: because of the tremendous health challenges that the continent faces, and because of the very serious deficiencies that still exist in Africa’s healthcare, compared to the rest of the world. This report will lay out the state of Africa’s population and its health, look at the current state of healthcare on the continent, including some of the countries and companies that have made major contributions to improving the current state of healthcare in Africa, and will lay out and explain some of the broad drivers that are likely to continue making a contribution to the gradual improvement in healthcare in Africa.

Because of the many easily treatable conditions that still affect too many Africans, current improvements in life expectancy can be expected to continue as governments, with the help of foreign partners and the private sector, address the deficiencies in primary care, and large-scale communicable disease killers like malaria and Human Immunodeficiency Virus/ Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (HIV/AIDS). It will take longer to make a difference to the other major killers in Africa, or to retool healthcare systems to cope with the health problems that are currently the biggest killers in the developed world and which are going to become an increasing problem in Africa: the ‘lifestyle, or non-communicable diseases’ like cancer, diabetes or heart disease that result from lifestyle choices.

Health Indicators for Africa

Africa lags behind other regions of the world on almost all healthcare indicators, as will be shown in greater detail below. Not only is Africa behind, but the gap between its health indicators and those of the rest of the world continues to widen. On many of these indicators, Africa has been overtaken by countries of South-East and South Asia which ranked lower than African countries a few decades ago. And, while progress is being made, it is slow, which is reason to expect that health outcomes in Africa will continue to lag behind those in the rest of the world for some time.

Epidemics that affect Africa more than other regions have played a large part in bringing about this situation. The HIV/AIDS epidemic has hit sub-Saharan Africa harder than any other region in the world, and is probably the main reason why the gap between Africa and the rest of the world has widened since the 1980s. In addition, policy factors have played a major role too, by rendering government responses to epidemics (especially HIV/ AIDS) less effective than they have been elsewhere. Other political factors are important: war in many places across the continent for much of the second half of the last century had terrible effects on local populations, pushing up death rates and resulting in yet more deaths indirectly, by interrupting food production and distribution chains, and by impeding relief efforts and the provision of emergency medical assistance.

Poverty, finally, is keeping Africa unhealthy. Large percentages of the population are too poor to afford transport to treatment facilities, let alone to pay for medical treatment that can be expensive. The lack of a deep market for privatised healthcare has meant that private healthcare initiatives have only sprung up in a small number of big cities. The same small market for health insurance, except in the richest economies on the continent, has prevented the formation of large savings pools that could finance better healthcare. Current economic trends, especially high gross domestic product (GDP) growth in Africa, have the potential to address the issue of poverty, but well thought out government policy will be essential to ensure that economic growth takes place in such a way as to lift people out of poverty, and to provide better healthcare systems to citizens.

For more information and data on African Healthcare, please feel free to download our sector report on Healthcare in Africa.

David Okwara
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