Can Africa Pave A Road To Better Health?

While Africa’s population still face many health challenges, businesses on the continent should be aware of the role they can play in driving better health for all.

This year the World Health Organisation celebrates its 75th anniversary, providing an opportunity to not only consider its many public health successes over the year, but also the way forward when it comes to health challenges the world still faces.

In Africa, in recent years, we have seen healthy life expectancy increase in the region, growing from 46 in 2000 to 56 years in 2019. This represents the highest increase in any WHO region for the same period, explains Dr. Kety Guambe, deputy medical director for International SOS, Mozambique. “However, it must be noted that the continent is coming from a very low base, with current levels still lower than the rest of the world.”

The report suggests that non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as cancer, cardiovascular diseases and diabetes are increasingly becoming the main cause of mortality in sub-Saharan Africa. This is largely due to weaknesses in the implementation of critical control measures, including prevention, diagnosis and care. 

“In Africa, between 50% and 88% of deaths in seven countries are due to NCDs, according to the WHO. And the number of people living with diabetes in the region is expected to reach 47 million by 2045, from 19 million in 2019,” notes Dr Guambe.

In parallel, Dr Guambe also reinforces the need to tackle infectious diseases – with those such as malaria on the rise again following disruptions in treatment and prevention methods due to the pandemic.

Africa’s healthcare professionals and dedicated healthcare organisations are making serious efforts to curb such challenges across the continent. For example, the Partnerships for African Vaccine Manufacturing (PAVM) has been established to deliver a bold goal, namely, to enable the African vaccine manufacturing industry to develop, produce, and supply over 60% of the total vaccine doses required on the continent by 2040 – up from less than 1%.

“It is vital to ensure that Africa’s health is safeguarded by ensuring the continent has the ability to manufacture health products on its own to overcome health challenges,” suggests Dr Guambe.

She adds that while vaccines can help with communicable diseases, controlling NCDs can be tougher. One of the best ways of controlling non-communicable diseases is by making lifestyle changes such as limiting tobacco and alcohol consumption, eating healthy meals, and practicing any form of physical activity. And it is here that the private sector can play a crucial role in improving healthcare across the continent. After all, health issues severely impact this sector – at a global level, it has been estimated that NCDs impact economic growth by up to 4% per annum.

The business impact is clear. Lower workplace productivity, absenteeism, and premature mortality in worst cases are all very real consequences of rising NCDs – all of which have a detrimental effect on economic output.

The private sector thus has a huge role not only in education, but in providing access to proper healthcare to employees as well. In fact, it is within the remit of business to establish wellness and education programmes to raise awareness against NCDs among employees, and thus help prevent them. In addition, introducing smoke-free indoor worksites, free or low-cost smoking cessation programmes, anti-alcohol programmes, access to healthy foods, and various stress-reduction measures can significantly contribute to overall health and wellbeing, suggests Dr Guambe.

“The burden of NCDs falls mainly on developing countries, where 82% of premature deaths from these diseases occur. Tackling the risk factors will therefore not only save lives, but it will also provide a huge boost for the economic development of countries. It is thus imperative that the private sector collaborates closely with healthcare officials and organisations, in order to build a more resilient healthcare system in Africa not only for today, but for the health challenges of the future.”

“When thinking about the future of work, we need to plan and design for a healthier future. At International SOS, we support various organisations with this by devising customised online assessments that help to determine a workforce’s risks towards some of the most common diseases and identifying which solutions would make the greatest impact in better taking care of their health needs,” adds Dr Guambe.

“Ultimately, we need to move into the wellness maturing curve – moving from just a focus on reducing healthcare costs, reducing absenteeism, eliminating accidents and keeping people healthy at work, to focusing on wellbeing as part of an overall social sustainability programme, contributing not only to the wellbeing and health of workforces, but to that of communities at large – which paves a way for a healthier Africa,” she concludes.

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