Everyone needs access to healthcare. African entrepreneurs will make it happen

We live in exciting times where humankind is rapidly evolving and improving its standard of living through innovation.

As Peter Diamandis says, “We live in an era where we have the tools to take on any challenge.” All we need are committed individuals who envision a positive future and want to match their skills and passions with the biggest challenges that are blocking their country’s development. Africa is about to create their own positive future far away from the eyes and limited imaginations of other developed countries.

Last February in Ghana, Hack For Big Choices and Impact Hub Accraorganized the largest hackathon to ever take place in Africa. At the time, I was struck by the potential and resilience of the new generation of entrepreneurs, and also by the sense of urgency they possess to tackle healthcare issues. Everyone needs access to healthcare.

This is why I have recently launched I Care 4 Africa, the biggest healthcare program to date that will empower entrepreneurs and medical professionals to use their first-hand experiences and talents to match business opportunities in the healthcare space.

Universal healthcare is within our grasp and it can happen if we catalyze a new healthcare system. African entrepreneurs will help make this a reality.

Sub-Saharan Africa, with just 13% of the world’s population, carries 24% of the world’s disease burden.

Yet, it only has 2% of the world’s doctors. It is common knowledge that Africa faces the largest healthcare challenges in the world, and that these issues may continue to worsen due to inadequate systems for prevention and care. As the population of Africa continues to boom, solving these health crises is imperative.

If we take a closer look at the reasons for lower mortality in the continent, we see that communicable diseases such as HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, malaria, tuberculosis, ebola, etc. amount to 61% for cause of death, while non-communicable diseases such as heart disease, various forms of cancer, diabetes, etc. account for 28.6% of all deaths in the continent.

These trends are in stark contrast with the rest of the world. Epidemic diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis, and HIV have been contained or overcome in most countries because we possess the knowledge and medications to fight them. However, Africa still faces these preventable diseases mainly due to two factors. First, there isn’t a systematic approach and model in place. This means that every time there is a new pandemic, it is treated as an emergency and all the resources become dedicated to it. Instead, what needs to be built is a complete system that can avoid reaching critical mass. Second, this burden should not be the sole responsibility of only a few stakeholders. After the Ebola crisis, The World Bank acknowledged that “No country or organization has wanted to own the issue of pandemic preparedness and response.” They estimate that “we could face an annual funding gap of US$35 billion by 2031” if there is no proactive action taken.

While the entirety of Africa is still working to contain and diminish pandemics and communicable diseases with existing cures, Sub-Saharan Africa is facing a healthcare tipping point. Policies and resources are mainly dedicated to fighting the infectious diseases of today. HIV, malaria and tuberculosis are the big targets. However, over the next 15 years, chronic diseases like cancer, heart disease, and kidney failure will become the major killers. According to the World Health Organization report in the Economist Intelligence Unit, by 2030, it is estimated that chronic non-communicable disease will account for 42% of all deaths in the region, up from 25% today.

Africa has the opportunity to better manage and reduce the suffering of chronic diseases than current developed worlds by building early diagnostic systems and creating better healthcare education.

African countries are not as heavily invested in a half-century old monopolistic system adverse to change, as developed countries are. African countries, therefore, don’t have the arduous task of adapting archaic healthcare systems centered on the doctor’s role of providing reactionary care rather than preventative care. Africa is a blank slate ready to adopt the best solutions Africans can imagine. India currently presents a strong case where the lack of traditional health-care infrastructure is being turned into tremendous business opportunity. General Electric has been behind this effort. They have developed breakthrough technologies for portable electrocardiogram machines that have had an impact in other developing countries as well. Vijay Govindarajan, first Professor in Residence and Chief Innovation Consultant at General Electric, explains that the initial obstacle that GE encountered was adopting a globalization strategy before recognizing that reverse innovation was the only way to address unique market needs. In 2005, GE offered in India “a version of its high-end product for $3,000, the low end of the premium price range. The results had been underwhelming. By then, the company saw that a more sophisticated approach was required, but it hadn’t yet entrusted its local talent with the challenge of designing breakthrough products for Indian consumers.” Today, GE healthcare is the leader in the ultrasound market and in 2014 they had 4.1 billion in revenue.

There is a great opportunity within our grasp when we finally decide to approach the African healthcare system at a structural level and let local innovation enable solutions that fit the African market.

Current local healthcare systems and international organizations are unprepared for a major health disaster and the emergence of non-communicable disease.

Most of the reports about the status and future of healthcare in Africa don’t take into account entrepreneurship as a force that can contribute to the development of the continent. For example, the last healthcare report by the Economist Intelligent Unit1 mentions critical stakeholders, such as governments, NGOs (Unicef, American Red Cross, Save the Children, One Foundation), and international organizations (UN, USAID, The World Bank), without any mention of entrepreneurs.

I believe entrepreneurs are the missing key element needed to create innovative, sustainable solutions. Entrepreneurship is recognized worldwide as the fuel of innovation.

Africa is not following the same path of development as developed countries. This gives Africa the key advantage of being able to tackle old problems with new technology. What has been achieved in decades, can now be done in a few years. Educating medical professionals can be done through technologies like VR or online courses that are much cheaper, offered on demand, and are scalable. Also, patients can become “power-patients” who learn on their own about their health and interact with professionals to determine their next steps towards building healthier lives.

Developing countries are the most ripe for adapting breakthrough technologies due to their lack of infrastructure and urgent need for innovative solutions. Specifically, in the case of Sub- Saharan Africa, innovative business models can succeed because of the high number of entrepreneurs able to enter the market and the modern accessibility of tools. African entrepreneurs do not fear failure and are willing to take risks to discover ways to introduce high-impact innovations to the growing markets.

African entrepreneurs have the right mindset to adopt these tools to innovate at local levels. These local entrepreneurs are the ones who experience the world’s toughest issues first hand. They have a deep understanding of their cultures and present fresh perspectives that are unlimited by preconceived notions of conventional practices.

This is the key advantage African entrepreneurs have, and it is core to having an innovative mindset.

What’s next?

After realizing what is happening and seeing the big opportunity of empowering entrepreneurs to leapfrog the current system, I’ve decided to take action and work together with Impact Hub Accra to design a program that can catalyze the healthcare system in Africa and provide access to healthcare for everyone. This is why we have created I Care 4 Africa, the biggest healthcare program to date that will empower entrepreneurs and medical professionals to use their first-hand experiences and talents to match business opportunities in the healthcare space. They, like us, see big opportunities where others see problems. Connecting problems to innovators can actively reshape markets by creating sustainable and inclusive businesses that translate to a higher quality of life for all.

With the support of Merck and Facebook, we will start I Care 4 Africa, a 10 month program starting in March, 2016. The program will also include thebiggest hackathon of the continent taking place from June 24th — 26th, 2016. Multi-stakeholder collaborations are necessary to address complex challenges. We are currently scouting organizations, institutions, universities, NGOs, and private companies that can bring funding, knowledge, expertise, and technologies that can add value to and catalyze the healthcare system in Africa.

Until now African healthcare has depended heavily on international aid organizations that are not unified in their approach of creating sustainable innovation to solve healthcare issues. I believe that local entrepreneurs, who until now have been left out of the equation, are the trigger that can leapfrog the system. We intend to prove that, through collaboration with the world’s leaders and local stakeholders, it is possible to structure an innovative and sustainable healthcare system.

As Vijay Govindarajan says “The new reality is that the future is far from home. If rich nations and established multinationals are to continue to thrive, the next generation of leaders and innovators must be just as curious about needs and opportunities in the developing world as they are about those in their own backyard.”

We look forward to building a future together that provides access to healthcare for everyone.

You can sign up here to be invited to the upcoming events.

Aurora Chisté

P.S. If you want to be part of I Care 4 Africa as amentor, sponsor or partner, email me at aurora@h4bc.org

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