At the start of the 2016 Africa Health Business Symposium, a conference sponsored by the African Union and held last October in Nairobi, healthcare interests across the African continent were represented by a patchwork of five distinct regional networks — Central, North, South, West and East — each with their own set of policies and goals.
At the end of the symposium, this was no longer the case. Standing proudly under the banner of “One Team, One Continent,” participants in the symposium witnessed the unification of the five regional healthcare consortiums to launch the Africa Healthcare Federation: a single association with stakeholders and leaders from private health sectors across all five regions of Africa, representing a total of 45 countries.
The organization will promote coordinated collaboration with governments and development partners in the interests of raising the state of Africa’s healthcare systems to “global standards.” The federation has identified key goals to achieve this: scaling up and strengthening health systems, encouraging more investment in the healthcare sector, and raising the quality, affordability and accessibility of healthcare delivery across all parts of Africa.
The activities of the new federation will be many, and varied. Primarily, it will represent the private healthcare sector as a single set of interests when collaborating with government and development partners to coordinate investments in public-private initiatives. It will also lobby for a continental business environment that is friendly to the interests of the private healthcare sector.
Internally, the federation will facilitate the sharing of best practices and the development of uniform quality standards and regulatory standards governing different facets of healthcare delivery. “Over the next five years, we aim to set up trading zones to promote the free movement of goods and labor and to encourage a borderless health plan,” says Dr. Amit N. Thakker, the first person to be elected chairman of the federation. “That will help us to reduce costs and create affordable care.”
Thakker is a Kenya-born medical doctor and prominent healthcare business leader. He is a prolific founder of healthcare businesses and organizations, with enterprises that include the Kenya and East Africa Healthcare Federations, Avenue Healthcare, and Unicare Holdings. Thakker has broad experience working in the private sector, and has been a consultant for government organizations and heavy-hitters such as the WHO. He says that together, these experiences have given him a wide understanding of how healthcare varies across Africa.
Some of Thakker’s focus will be on how to best align private and public sector interests to create improvements in healthcare delivery. Such alignments usually take the form of public-private partnerships, driven by African companies, organizations and individuals. Thakker says the African Healthcare Federation will play a large role in coordinating these efforts, with an underlying goal of achieving universal health coverage and reducing the continent’s overall disease burden. “There’s quite a bit of work to be done,” Thakker says. “And there’s no template to look to.”
Thakker does point to a few key areas where private sector knowledge and know-how can be put to work improving public-sector operations, areas that he calls “game-changers.” They include creating disruptive innovation technology for healthcare; strengthening human resources for health training and improving quality of health worker training; reducing the cost of supply chain management tools; and opening up opportunities for healthcare financing, including public-private partnerships, to foster more investments.
The federation has charted a five-year plan with help from the consulting firm McKinsey & Company. If it meets its success metrics, it estimates that these “game-changer” projects could bring US$25 billion in new healthcare investments to the continent.
“The Africa Healthcare Federation is one team,” Thakker says. “We have the role of unifying to create an environment that enables better policies for business and health.”
— Ali Greatsinger
Ali Greatsinger is the senior editor at GHCi.