UHC Day, December 12, 2023

In 2021, 4.5 billion people were not fully covered by essential health services. Protecting people from the financial consequences of paying for health services out of their own pockets reduces the risk that people will be pushed into poverty.

UHC means everyone has access to the healthcare services that they need, of good quality, without the risk of financial hardship (WHO 2007). To achieve #UHC in Africa, young people must be empowered to make informed decisions, develop local innovations and participate in decision-making processes affecting their health.

The Africa Young Innovators for Health Award (AYIHA), the youth flagship program of the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA) and Speak Up Africa, celebrates the ingenuity of young African entrepreneurs dedicated to advancing Universal Health Coverage (UHC).

This UHC Day, we celebrate and recognize the four young leaders who won the second edition of the AYIHA program and their trailblazing innovations. Mrs. Teniola Aderonke Adedeji from Nigeria and Dr. Ochora Moses from Uganda stood out as first prize winners, with their innovations marking significant strides toward UHC in Africa. Mrs. Izath Nura and M. Abdullahi Muhammad Habibu, also from Nigeria, were honored as second prize winners. These innovators, through their unique perspectives and commitment, are vital to the quest for healthcare for all, as recognized during the UHC Day celebrations.

“By aggregating pharmacies, streamlining logistics, and embracing digital solutions, our platform ensures that essential medications reach individuals across communities promptly,” she shared. Dr. Ochora Moses, another first prize winner and the mind behind Photo-Kabada, highlighted the need for local solutions to meet health challenges. He stated, “Photo-Kabada is a phototherapy device that treats simultaneously three babies with jaundice. For Africa to achieve UHC, we need to focus on developing our local solutions because we understand them better.”

Mrs. Teniola Aderonke Adedeji, CEO of Pharmarun and first prize winner, emphasized the importance of her platform in enhancing the accessibility, affordability, and quality of healthcare.

Second prize winner Mrs. Izath Nura, CEO of Neosave, described her innovation, Autothermo, as a lifeline for babies, enhancing efficiency in regions with a shortage of skilled health workers.

“Our collective journey to Universal Health Coverage is embodied in this device, urging collaboration and awareness for a brighter, healthier future across our continent,” she reflected.  Mr. Abdullahi Muhammad, Founder of Trash-4-Health and another second prize winner, underscored the role of his initiative in leveraging waste as a valuable resource to improve healthcare access. He noted, “Through these efforts, we aim to align with the commitments of Universal Health Coverage by investing in comprehensive health coverage, strengthening health systems…and promoting innovation to ensure equitable access for all.”

Mrs. Izath Nura, CEO of Neosave

Through the Africa Young Innovators for Health Award, we acknowledge the outstanding contributions of young entrepreneurs creating innovative solutions every day to shape safer, better, and healthier futures and build their capacity to realize their potential as the enablers of change within the healthcare landscape – today.  Their efforts are a testament to the power of youth-led innovation in shaping a healthier, more inclusive future for Africa.

Key leaders in digital health convened at the landmark Global Digital Health Forum held in Washington DC from December 4-6, 2023, setting the stage for accelerated progress in digital transformation to enhance health access and outcomes around the world. The forum convenes influential stakeholders from across sectors to align around priorities, share latest evidence and best practices, forge partnerships, and accelerate progress towards universal health coverage and health-related Sustainable Development Goals powered by digital transformation of health systems worldwide. A perfect occasion to hold an event on African Women in Digital Health: Removing barriers for women’s meaningful engagement and leadership in digital health.

In opening remarks, Jean-Philbert Nsengimana, Chief Digital Advisor for the Africa CDC, explained the urgent need for AWiDH to help achieve the Center’s digital health goals given immense barriers women still face entering and advancing in technology-oriented careers and entrepreneurship. The detriments of lagging women’s inclusion resounded throughout the discussion led by moderator Fara Ndiaye, Deputy Executive Director at Speak Up Africa. Trailblazer Gloria Karirirwe, co-founder of Auto-Thermo and winner of the second edition of the African Young Innovators for Health Award co-led by Speak Up Africa and IFPMA, spotlighted financing access obstacles for women founders in digital health as well the dire need to find strategic partnerships animated by the motivation to help scale women-led startups. ESwatini HMIS Manager Zanela Simelane showcased her country’s gender policy guiding national digital policies – a leading example the region can model. She emphasized the values of diversity stating, “when we leave women and girls behind, we lose vital perspectives.” USAID’s Sherri Haas urged partners to leverage influence for women’s empowerment at formative stages and called to fund locally-led organizations to develop technology targeting community needs. Finally, Stephanie Watson-Grant, Deputy Director at JSI’s Country Health Information Systems and Data Use (CHISU) Program, reinforced AWiDH’s value for positioning more women in digital architecture roles to enhance user-centered health information systems and access for all. She challenged the continent and its partners to consider what we can start doing differently tomorrow – whether adopting training programs, evolving hiring practices, funding women-led ventures, implementing policies without bias or simply making more room for women’s voices in digital health design.

If digital health is meant to leave no one behind and pave the way to universal health coverage, then no one can afford to ignore the representation gap for African women. Convening dedicated forums such as this one for awareness, planning and progress tracking are imperative. The insights shared during the event reinforced that expanding opportunities for women and girls to shape and lead digital health in Africa is imperative, not just for gender equality, but for catalyzing progress towards our shared aspirations of health and prosperity across the continent. Hosts – CHISU and Speak Up Africa – sounded the alarm and rallied stakeholders to fix our attention on this critical gap in women’s meaningful participation. The launch of the groundbreaking African Women in Digital Health network ushers in an organized, Pan-African platform to continue driving visibility, coordination and accountability from all parties willing to remove the barriers holding back gifted women from taking their rightful place as innovators and leaders of digital health transformation.

Global Digital Health Forum,4-6 December, 2023, By Fara Ndiaye, Speak Up Africa’s Deputy Executive Director

My recent journey to Kigali for the Africa Health Tech Summit (AHTS) and the African Women in Digital Health (AWiDH) panels was nothing short of an exhilarating rollercoaster ride through the future of healthcare in Africa. As I reflect on this experience, I am genuinely thrilled to share the profound impact and excitement these two panels brought into my life.

The Africa Health Tech Summit, AHTS, held from October 17th to 19th, was a remarkable event that gathered over a thousand experts, innovators, and government officials under one roof to explore the endless possibilities of digital health in Africa. The energy was electric from the very beginning.

I had the immense honor of participating in the first panel discussion titled “The New Africa Digital Health Deal: Stronger Health Security Through Digital Innovation.” The session was opened by H.E Dr. Jean Kaseya, whose 4Cs of driving successful digital health are imprinted in my mind. As digital health drivers, we must nurture communities, enhance commodities, have cash for investment, and connectivity. The plenary facilitated by Yacine Djibo, CEO of Speak Up Africa, was a melting pot of visionary individuals who are leading the charge in the digital health revolution. It was humbling to share the stage with esteemed figures like Dr. Sabin Nsanzimana from the Government of Rwanda, Lacina Kone, Director-General of Smart Africa, Dr. Huyam Salih, Director of AU I-BAR, and Ambassador Belen Calvo Uyarra, the E.U Ambassador to Rwanda.

I was blown away by the collective wisdom shared on this panel. We delved deep into the various facets of advancing health security through digital innovation, including the strengthening of primary care, disease surveillance, health innovation, data governance, and the workforce. These discussions were illuminating, and they shed light on the transformative power of digital solutions in healthcare across the continent.

The African Women in Digital Health panel discussion was another remarkable chapter of my Kigali journey. This initiative, co-led by the GIZ African Union and Speak Up Africa, aims to break down barriers and create a conducive environment for African women and girls in the digital health space. The session, titled “Breaking Barriers – Women shaping the future of digital health in Africa,” emphasized the need for meaningful engagement and leadership of women in the entire digital health ecosystem. The importance of policy, collaboration, and infrastructure was underscored, leaving us with a sense of determination to create positive change for women in digital health.

These two panels were experiences that showcased the immense potential of digital health in Africa and the power of collaboration. As I reflect on my time in Kigali, I am filled with hope and enthusiasm for the future of healthcare on our continent, especially the gender gap consciously being bridged. The connections made, the insights gained, and the collaborative spirit I witnessed have left an indelible mark on me.

The journey has just begun, and I am more committed than ever to playing my part in reshaping healthcare equitably and innovatively across Africa. As a woman in digital health, I am more than convinced that opportunities are vast, and the challenges are surmountable when we work together. AHTS and AWiDH have illuminated the path forward, and I am excited to be part of this extraordinary movement towards a healthier, more inclusive, and more digitally advanced Africa.

By Lola Aderemi, Co-Founder and Chief Product Officer of Pharmarun, First Prize winner of the Africa Young Innovators for Health Award (Second Edition)

I recently had the privilege of attending the Africa Health Tech Summit of 2023 in the vibrant city of Kigali this October. The experience was truly transformative, providing a glimpse into the promising future of healthcare technology in Africa. The dedication of the panel speakers, all united by a shared mission to leverage technology for improving healthcare accessibility, stood out to me. They drew from their experiences and openly discussed the challenges they encountered on their journey to address pressing health issues in African communities through innovative technology solutions. This was truly inspiring and served as a powerful reminder that meaningful change begins with individuals who are willing to roll up their sleeves and make a difference.

I particularly enjoyed the focused African Women in Digital Health (AWiDH) panel discussion on “Breaking Barriers: Women Shaping the Future of Digital Health in Africa” which emphasized the use of technology to enhance healthcare accessibility and quality across the continent. The issue of limited access to digital devices, particularly among women in rural areas and older women, resonated deeply with me because it’s a reality I frequently witness in my community. It’s not an abstract concept; it’s a reality we see all around us. The digital divide is a significant barrier to progress, and addressing it is crucial to ensure that the benefits of healthcare technology reach everyone, regardless of their location or circumstances.

The panels also highlighted the tremendous potential of digital solutions to revolutionize healthcare delivery in Africa, including discussions on early disease detection, remote patient monitoring, and improving healthcare infrastructure. It was a glimpse of the endless possibilities that lie in a future where technology plays a pivotal role in ensuring the well-being of individuals and communities alike.

In retrospect, I couldn’t help but hope for more fireside chats and small group discussions. Just imagine the wealth of knowledge and experience that could have been shared! The participants, each with their unique journeys in the realm of digital health inclusivity, would undoubtedly have added valuable insights. These conversations would have further strengthened our sense of community and deepened our understanding of the challenges and successes experienced by those dedicated to promoting inclusivity in healthcare technology.

Between panel discussions, I had the opportunity to connect with fellow attendees, all sharing a passion for healthcare technology from diverse backgrounds. The Founder and Executive Director of Speak Up Africa, Mrs. Yacine Djibo, showcased exceptional networking skills, introducing us to influential figures in the digital health sector. We had the privilege of learning from dignitaries like Mr. Jean-Philbert from Africa CDC, gaining invaluable insights from their wealth of experience. Additionally, I had the honor of engaging with Mrs. Marie Chantal, Founder of Umubyeyi, who is part of the Women Innovators Incubator. Her journey, from having just an idea to fully implementing it in her community in Rwanda, served as a great source of inspiration. These networking opportunities solidified my belief in the collective power of collaboration. It became evident that progress in healthcare technology is a team effort, and the potential for groundbreaking partnerships was limitless.

The Africa Health Tech Summit underscored the pivotal role of women in advancing inclusivity and innovation in digital healthcare across Africa—let’s champion this vision together!

Written by Sheeba Niwensiima, Co-Founder of Photo- Kabada and First Prize winner of the Second Edition of the Africa Young Innovators for Health Award

“On October 18th, 2023, I was both excited and humbled to be part of the African Women in Digital Health (AWiDH) panel of speakers discussing “Breaking Barriers: Women Shaping the Future of Digital Health in Africa,” in collaboration with Speak Up Africa. The panel featured several distinguished speakers, including Aissatou Ba, Program Officer at the Women’s Economic Empowerment ECOWAS Gender Development Center; Stephanie Watson-Grant, Deputy Director at CHISU/JSI; Ibrahima Khaliloulah Dia, Head of Digital Health at the Ministry of Health and Social Action; and myself, Nura Izath, AYI4H Winner and Founder of Neosave Limited. Dr. Maimouna Diop Ly, Senior Advisor for Health Policy and Financing at Speak Up Africa in the Republic of Senegal expertly moderated the panel.

During the AWiDH panel discussion, I was asked to address the question: What are the key factors necessary for sustainable digital health and technology transfer from the perspective of innovative start-ups led by African women? In response, I emphasized the importance of providing women-led start-ups with equal access to funding opportunities, creating networking platforms where women entrepreneurs can exchange ideas, learn about current trends in digital health, and connect with stakeholders and funders. I also highlighted the significance of implementing capacity-building programs to enhance digital health skills and training initiatives in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM). Lastly, I underscored the importance of mentorship and involving women in decision-making processes.

Similarly, on October 19th, 2023, I joined another panel discussion titled “Youth in Digital Health Network – Youth in Digital Health,” in partnership with CDC Africa. The panel was expertly moderated by Ms. Rebecca Cherop, a YAT4H Member and Mental Health Champion, with a keynote address by Dr. Chrys Promesse Kaniki, Africa CDC Senior Technical Officer for Strategic Programmes. Additional speakers included Pr. Paul Lalvani, Founder and Director of the Empower School of Health, the Center for Digital Learning (CDL), and the Center for Leadership Development; Mrs. Lucy Setian, Director of Digital Transformation at the Novartis Foundation; myself, Ms. Nura Izath, Founder and CEO of Neosave Technologies; and Dr. Ochora Moses, Co-founder and Project Lead at Photo-Kabada Limited, the Africa Young Innovators for Health Award winner in 2023 from Uganda. During this panel, I had the opportunity to share our journey with Autothermo innovation, the challenges we encountered, and how we overcame them. I also emphasized the importance of youth exploring the digital health field, as these skills can be acquired in a relatively short span of 2-3 months.

From both panel discussions, inclusivity in digital health must also consider the involvement of the elderly in using such services. Furthermore, establishing platforms for women and youth to engage in tech activities and connect with peers on similar journeys is essential.

For me, as the leader of Neosave startup, this platform offers us exposure to potential partnerships, investor connections, increased visibility, and networking opportunities. It also provides a chance to inspire and motivate young individuals, including women, to take initiative in the digital health sector. This platform is an excellent opportunity for collaboration, learning, and growth among digital health entrepreneurs from across the African continent.

I would like to extend my gratitude to Speak Up Africa, IFPMA, USAID’s Country Health Information Systems and Data Use (CHISU) program led by JSI, GIZ African Union, CDC Africa, and Smart Africa for providing such a platform for young innovators like us who are dedicated to developing locally tailored solutions for Africa.

By Nura Izath, CEO of Neosave and Second Prize winner of the Africa Young Innovators for Health Award (Second Edition)

Experience at Africa Health Tech Summit 2023, by Moses Ochora, Founder and CEO of Photo-Kabada and First Prize winner of the Second Edition of the Africa Young Innovators for Health Award

In the heart of Kigali, the Africa Health Tech Summit (AHTS) illuminated a path towards a future where digital health is not just a buzzword but a reality. This gathering of minds, innovators, and visionaries reaffirmed the untapped potential of the African continent in the realm of digital health technology.

The heart of the summit was undoubtedly the panel discussions. These sessions were informative, educational, and thought-provoking. Leading experts, entrepreneurs, and healthcare professionals shared their insights, experiences, and visions for the future of digital health in Africa. From AI-driven diagnostic tools to telemedicine solutions that bridge the gap between urban and rural healthcare, the discussions underscored the incredible potential of digital health technologies on the continent.

In particular, the youth panels were an inspiring highlight. Young minds, with their inherent adaptability to technology, discussed their pivotal role in shaping the future of digital health. They explored how to collaborate to build a youth digital network that drives innovation and change. Their fresh perspectives, energy, and digital savviness are invaluable assets in addressing the healthcare challenges that the continent faces.

The power of the summit extended beyond the panels and workshops. It was in the corridors, over coffee breaks, and during evening receptions where real connections were made. The Ministerial breakfast meeting was one of such spaces where futuristic insights were shared.  The right people were in the right room, discussing the most important things. Entrepreneurs connected with investors, healthcare providers exchanged ideas with tech innovators, and government representatives explored collaborations with private sector players. The synergies created in these moments have the potential to drive the digital health sector forward in Africa.

Take Home – A Glimpse of the Future

From the Africa Health Tech Summit in Kigali, we carry with us a glimpse of the future: a future where digital health technologies have the power to revolutionize healthcare across the African continent. The insights gained from the panels, the connections made through networking, and the energy of the youth summit are all building blocks towards realizing this future.

Opportunities – The Road Ahead

The summit unveiled a plethora of opportunities. It’s evident that Africa has the talent, ambition, and innovation to lead the way in the digital health sector. Investors are eager to support promising ventures, and governments are keen to collaborate. The road ahead may have challenges, but it’s also laden with opportunities for those willing to take the leap.

In conclusion, the Africa Health Tech Summit in Kigali was a testament that the future of digital health is young, vibrant, and African. The journey may seem to have just begun, but the potential for digital transformative change in healthcare across the continent is palpable. As we move forward, let us be guided by the insights gained, the connections formed, and the opportunities that await us on this remarkable journey.”

Written by Dr. Moses Ochora, Co-founder, Photo-Kabada Limited (www.photokabada.com)

5 OCTOBER 2023, DAKAR, SENEGAL – The International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA) and Speak Up Africa have announced the winners of the second edition of the Africa Young Innovators for Health Award. Mrs Teniola Aderonke Adedeji (Nigeria) and Dr. Ochora Moses (Uganda) have been announced as first prize winners and Mrs Izath Nura (Uganda) and M. Abdullahi Muhammad Habibu (Nigeria) as second prize winners. The announcement was made at the Galien Forum Africa, which celebrates creativity and excellence in science in Africa. The Africa Young Innovators for Health Award supports pioneering young entrepreneurs with financial and in-kind opportunities they need to advance their innovations for better health outcomes in their communities. 

For its second edition, the Award focused on innovations to achieve Universal Health Coverage (UHC) in Africa. Many African governments have shown their commitment to achieving UHC by 2030, but progress needs to be accelerated. The Award focused on innovation that can help extend population coverage, extend service coverage, and ensure financial protection for patients. 

“Winning the first prize of the Award further validates Pharmarun’s mission of providing fast and easy access to medication. We are committed to ensuring medication access through fostering more collaborations among pharmacies to ensure universal health coverage, beginning with medication and pharmaceutical care,” said Mrs Teniola Aderonke Adedeji, CEO of Pharmarun (Nigeria), an on-demand platform that offers a convenient solution to fragmented access to essential medications, and first prize winner of the Award.

“The Photo-Kabada team is humbled by this Award. This is an opportunity for us to move closer to our dreams of getting out of the lab into the clinical space where sick babies are. The Award is also a testament to the fact that homegrown solutions are part of the drivers of Universal Health Coverage,” said Dr. Moses Ochora, first prize winner of the Award and Co-Founder and CEO of Photo-Kabada (Uganda), a hybrid remotely monitored, phototherapy device created as a solution to reduce the burden, morbidity, and mortality associated with neonatal jaundice especially in low and middle-income countries.

Congratulating the winners, Award partners said: 

“Reaching the goal of UHC by 2030 requires substantial public sector investment and accelerated action by governments and partners, building on solid evidence and reorienting health systems to a primary health care approach, to advance equity in both the delivery of essential health services and financial protection. It also requires fresh, bold, and fit-for-purpose health innovations, and this is why the Award’s second edition was based on this theme,” said Yacine Djibo, Executive Director and Founder of Speak Up Africa.

“Huge congratulations to the winners of this year’s Africa Young Innovators for Health Award. We wanted to guarantee gender equality in this year’s awards, and I’m delighted that two women and two men have won. IFPMA continues to be committed to accelerating innovation as part of delivering Universal Healthcare Coverage, and today’s Award winners will undoubtedly make a huge contribution to this goal,” said Thomas Cueni, Director General, IFPMA.

“Achieving universal health coverage by 2030 is crucial for fulfilling the promise of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and realizing the fundamental human right to health. I am very thankful and supportive of such program that significantly contributes in the achievement of our common goals through tangible and intangible support to African entrepreneurs,” said Dr. Ibrahima Socé Fall, Director, Neglected Tropical Disease at the World Health Organization and Jury Member of the second edition.  

11 SEPTEMBER 2023, GENEVA AND DAKAR –The International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA) and Speak Up Africa announced 15 candidates shortlisted for the 2nd edition of the Africa Young Innovators for Health Award. In alphabetical order, these candidates are:

The Africa Young Innovators for Health Award supports young entrepreneurs with the tools they need to advance their innovations for better health outcomes. The theme of the 2nd edition of the Awards is on Universal Health Coverage (UHC), with a focus on innovations that are extending population or service coverage and ensuring better financial protection for their communities. 

Shortlisted candidates will be in the running for financial and in-kind support and all are eligible to participate in a mini-bootcamp later this month, working with business leaders to communicate their ideas for impact.

A technical review team of leading global health and business organizations reviewed and selected 15 shortlisted candidates out of more than 180 applications. Selection was based on the extent to which each applicant met the UHC criteria, the experience, skills, and maturity of the start-up, the anticipated impact of the Award, the quality of the application, and whether the innovation made the case for contributing to a more sustainable world.

Embracing the essential pursuit of universal health coverage, we recognize the pivotal role innovation plays in achieving this goal. We are delighted to reaffirm our partnership with IFPMA to support young bold Africans tackling our continent’s most urgent health challenges. Today, we are pleased to unveil the remarkable 15 individuals who have been shortlisted for the 2023 African Young Innovators for Health Award

Yacine Djibo, Executive Director of Speak Up Africa

In a year dedicated to UHC and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, we are delighted to celebrate African youth who are applying their imaginations, skills, and expertise to help realize the dream of health for all, everywhere. Congratulations to the 15 shortlisted candidates and we look forward to announcing the final four Awardees next month at the Galien Forum Afrique.

Greg Perry, Assistant Director General, IFPMA added

Two female and two male first and second prize winners will benefit from a combined $90,000 USD to bring their innovation to life to achieve UHC in Africa. Winners will also benefit from business mentoring, strategic guidance on intellectual property rights, media training, and access to a global health and innovation network. 

Award winners will be announced on Wednesday, 4 October 2023 in a ceremony at the Forum Galien Afrique. 

The Awards program is supported by Amref Health Africa, Forum Galien Afrique, IntraHealth International, Geneva Health Forum, Women in Global Health, Adams & Adams, Global Health Technologies Coalition, Organisation Africaine de la Propriété Intellectuelle, Maddyness, ANA. Media partners include Africa.com, ScienceActu, and REMAPSEN. 

Read the article about Dr. Shakira, member of the jury

A South African based public health practitioner and activist, Dr. Shakira Choonara, has called on African governments to make it a priority in investing more resources rightly in the health sector so as to enable the continent to achieve universal health coverage (UHC).

She was of the view that achieving UHC was not beyond the reach of African governments and that when the right investments and prioritisations are made, the region would be able to make a headway in that regard.

She particularly implored African governments to focus more on disease prevention and health promotion as some of the measures needed to achieve UHC and Sustainable Development Goal-3, which is about prevention of diseases and promotion of good health. 

Dr. Choonara in an interview with Graphic Online said African nations could properly regulate some of the factors that cause sicknesses in the region, including tobacco, alcohol and sugary drinks as well as the entire sugary industry.

She said it has become necessary to enhance the quality of care in the African region, saying

“When the quality of care is low, that means we are not making progress.”

She added also that there was the need to bring down out-of-pocket expenses in the healthcare sector, noting that as a result of the inability of the governments in the region to provide the needed services in the public sector, many people are going into debts, trying to meet the cost of healthcare at the private facilities.

Dr. Choonara stressed that availability and accessibility of quality healthcare delivery was prerequisite for sustainable development in any developed society and that Africa cannot develop without this—UHC.

What is UHC? 

UHC means that everyone has access to the healthcare services that they need without the risk of financial hardship when paying for them.

More importantly, UHC aims to provide health care and financial protection to all people in a given country with three related objectives—equity in access; quality of health services, and financial-risk protection.

In 2015, member states of the United Nations adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its accompanying Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), with the third goal of the agenda focusing on health – good health and well-being. This has the attainment of UHC as its umbrella target. 

Health budgeting 

Dr. Choonara holds the conviction that UHC is achievable if things are done right, pointing out that health budgeting distribution should be properly done such that public health facilities would get the needed resources to be able to operate at the optimal levels.

She expressed the concern that even though many African governments were investing in their health sectors, a chunk of such investments go to the private sector which many people could not access their services due to the high cost.

Citing South Africa, for instance, Dr Choonara, who is also currently a Technical Specialist at the World Health Organisation Headquarters, supporting the Department of Health Workforce and Sexual and Reproductive Health, indicated that South Africa “has 80 per cent of its health budget going to the private sector and leaving only 20 per cent for the public sector.”

That, she described the distribution of health budget, as “inaccurate distribution of resources.”

She, however, expressed the concern that when resources are put in the care of state actors, “they are not efficiently utilised” as compared to the private sector.

Dr. Choonara further urged policy makers, implementers and duty bearers in the region to factor the subject of UHC in their thinking, stressing that when leaders prioritise something, they make the necessary efforts to get it done. 

Domestic resources 

She also pointed out that achieving UHC would require significant financial commitment and for the African region to do that, it needed to wean itself from donor support systems and start domestic mobilisation of resources.

She explained that even though donor funding had contributed greatly towards improving the region’s health, such monies come with conditions, making it difficult for the region to channel the monies to where they are needed most.

“For as long as we are dependent on foreign aid, that means they set the priorities”

Dr. Choonara, who is a UHC specialist stated.

Citing HIV, for instance, she said many African nations have enough resources towards HIV related activities due to donor support systems and that such monies could not be channeled into other uses including strengthening health systems, building infrastructure, or purchasing medical equipment. 

She expressed the concern that in many African countries,

“unless something is donor-driven in the health system, nothing really happens.”

Dr. Choonara also raised concerns over structural issues in the health sector in the region, pointing out that unlike the private sector where things are properly done to function effectively and efficiently, many public health facilities in the region lacked the right structures.

She said if the private sector is fast developing in terms of digitisation, modernisation and service delivery, the public sector could equally learn from it and upgrade their services.

Shortage of health personnel 

She stressed the need for African countries to provide safer environment for their health workers in order to enable them to stay.

She expressed the concern that Africa continues to lose some of her finest health workers to other parts of the world due to poor conditions of service and lack of enabling environment.

Dr. Choonara, who is widely recognised for her work on gender equality, sexual and reproductive health rights and youth development, said the nature of health facilities in many parts of Africa contribute to pushing many health workers out of the region. 

She said many health professionals in the region had to provide care for patients without the needed equipment, which all affect their work and morale.

For her, the growing exodus of health professionals from the African region “is going to have a dire impact on us” and added that “these professionals are snapped out very quickly.”

Why focus on Youth?  

Concerning the involvement of adolescents and youth in the UHC discussion, Dr. Choonara, who is also a former member of the African Union Youth Council and Africa Health Agenda International Conference (AHAIC) Commission on universal health coverage in Africa, stressed that children and adolescent are so important in the discussion of UHC because “that is the age you develop your health habits and your social practices.”

Similarly, she noted, when adolescents and youth are involved in the UHC discussion, it would enable them to learn to prevent certain addictive lifestyles, including consumption of alcohol, processed foods, sugary foods and tobacco. 

“If you build a healthy population at that age, that means the entire life-cycle is likely to be healthy”

she said, indicating that it would also help to reduce lifestyle diseases such as diabetes and hypertension in population.

Dr. Choonara argued that considering the critical role of the youth in achieving UHC, there was the need to involve the youth at all levels of decision making in order for them to make the right inputs in such thinking.

Innovation & Youth 

She also urged African governments to help innovators in the region to come up with solutions to meet the region’s health needs.

She explained that many regions of the world are now depending largely on technologies and innovations to provide quality health care for their people and that Africa should not be an exception.

She also entreated young innovators in the region to collaborate with the private sector if the governments are unable to meet up their funding needs.

Dr. Choonara therefore commended Speak Up Africa for its initiative in providing funding support for young African health innovators.

For her,

“having this source of incentives is excellent. It gives them a push that they need”

pointing out that countries such as India and China largely rely on innovations and technology in driving their healthcare and such things are mostly led by the youth.

She also implored African governments to embrace new ways of doing things to ensure that the region is not left out in providing quality, accessible, and affordable care to its citizens at all times in all areas.

“Once the public sector healthcare system is functioning really in archaic way, nothing is going to change,” she noted.
Africa Young Innovators for Health Award 

The Africa Young Innovators for Health Award is a flagship programme launched by the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA) and Speak Up Africa to recognise and reward innovative projects by young African entrepreneurs in the health sector. 

It is supported by AMREF Health Africa, BroadReach, Ecobank Academy, the Galien Foundation, IntraHealth International, Microsoft 4 Afrika, RBM Partnership to End Malaria, Social Change Factory, Africa.com and Scidev.net.

The first edition of the award, launched in December 2021, highlighted innovative solutions aimed at supporting health professionals who are leading the way in delivering care and promoting health. 

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