Exclusive interview with Awa Babington-Ashaye, head of GHF workstreams’ strategy & coordination of GHF organization, on Africa’s representation at the Forum
As part of the ninth edition of the Geneva Health Forum (GHF), themed “Covid-19 Pandemic and Environmental Emergency: Reinventing Global Health in Times of Global Changes,” the Award Team sat down with Awa Babington-Ashaye, head of GHF workstreams’ strategy & coordination and founder of Adenium Healthcare, to talk about how the GHF is promoting and supporting health innovation, specifically African innovators, to solve the region’s most pressing healthcare challenges.
Awa explains that, since its launch in 2006, the GHF has been fostering better access to healthcare, promoting research, and training health actors on a global scale. It is also recognized as one of the largest biennial global health conferences with an average of 1, 500 participants annually (this year 1,698 participants joined in person and 295 joined virtually), bringing together various actors from the private sector, academia, incubators, and financial institutions every two years.
When asked about the importance of innovation and technology at the Forum, Awa refers to the “exciting discussions that were held about how health, innovation and technology can enable better targeting of public health interventions on a global scale to maximize their effectiveness.”
When it comes to Africa, Awa sees the great opportunities that technology has for the continent. According to Awa, “the future of healthcare in Africa relies on multiple factors – one being the ability to seize the opportunities from innovation and new technologies.”
Awa believes that African solutions to African challenges are the best way forward and the way to get there is through African entrepreneurship and a supportive innovation ecosystem. In her opinion, the internet is one of those major opportunities. “Africa has one of the world’s largest penetrations of the internet and smartphones. Sadly, we still observe too many countries where people are dying from preventable and curable diseases,” she said. Therefore, “sustainable solutions can be found by developing adequate, accessible approaches that met the local health system’s constraints hence African solutions are essential.”
When asked about the theme of the session and the opportunity for innovation in Africa it presents, Awa explains that, “The COVID-19 pandemic has been an unprecedented catalyst for innovation in Africa. We all observed how young African entrepreneurs developed new initiatives to build resilience in the communities to help tackle the pandemic, including telemedicine, digital platforms to tackle the infodemic, contact tracing applications, or new models to support health workers in the delivery of care. The ability to be creative and serve the health needs of populations in constrained settings is an important example to look at,“ she said.
Awa then discussed with us how African innovators can play a bigger role in shaping global health. “This is why the Geneva Health Forum could benefit from lessons learned from African entrepreneurs to reflect on effective approaches needed to reinvent global health during major health crises like the COVID-19 pandemic. Africa is undoubtedly leading in so many ways in the health space. It is also important to consider rethinking the paradigm in solving global health challenges and how we see Africa and Africans’ role in that equation. Africa’s representation is fundamental. Beyond ensuring better visibility for Africa in the global health scene, the stakes are higher,” she added.
The Africa Young Innovators for Health Award focused particularly on solutions for healthcare professionals during the COVID-19 pandemic. On this, Awa said, “African entrepreneurs, through their resilience and remarkable ability to get the most from different local constraints, have supported healthcare professionals, but also whole communities.”
For Awa, the investment in Africa’s health and technology sector is increasing and, particularly in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is another reason for bringing the learnings of those successful ventures to the table at the GHF. She explains that the GHF team conducted workshops focusing on the issue of pharmaceutical distribution in Africa, but also sessions and collaboration on the topic of neglected diseases in Africa , including Noma and sleeping sickness. They also organized a panel discussion on how to drive equity through ‘virtual healthcare pathways.’
The Awardees at the GHF 2022
Award winners Conrad Tankou (CEO of GICMED), Nyambura Muroki (Head of Operations & Strategy at Daktari Media), Nuriat Nambogo (CEO of Mobicare), and Sesinam Dagadu (SnooCodRed), who was shortlisted for the Award, were selected to present their innovations to hundreds of global health actors at the 2022 edition of the Geneva Health Forum.
About Awa Babington-Ashaye
Ms Babington-Ashaye is a biochemist by training, and a specialist of virology and molecular biochemistry. Awa has led several public health initiatives related to the prevention and diagnosis of various infectious diseases (Zika, Dengue, Chikungunya, Malaria) in different regions of the world and West Africa in particular. Well-versed in the field, she shared her view on the COVID-19 pandemic in Africa and the role of innovators but also explained why African entrepreneurs’ participation in the Forum was important.