The African Business Coalition on Health (ABChealth) – an idea originally initiated by the Aliko Dangote Foundation and GBCHealth during the Bloomberg Global Business Forum in New York two years ago – finally became a reality to much acclaim on Tuesday 12 February in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa. reGina Jane Jere reports
The African Business Coalition on Health (ABChealth) which was launched at the inaugural African Business Health Forum (AB:HF), on the margins of the African Union Heads of State summit, and attracted business community leaders from across Africa, is an ambitious platform that could transform Africa’s health and wellbeing landscape and the business potential that comes with it.
The ABCHealth builds on initiatives proffered in New York two years ago, by Aliko Dangote and GBCHealth co-chair Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede to form an African-led coalition of businesses, companies and philanthropists, to collaborate with heads of government and other stakeholders in finding lasting solutions to Africa’s surmountable health and wellbeing challenges – both in the workplace and within the broader communities.
The platform, which was endorsed by African Heads of State in Addis Ababa, and was graced by Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, President of Djibouti Ismaïl Omar Guelleh and Botswana’s President Mokgweetsi Masisi at the launch, is also expected to unify Africa’s key decision makers in exploring opportunities for catalysing growth in the continent’s economy, through business partnerships that can and should invest in the health sector. The event also attracted high profile celebrities including football legend Didier Drogba, who has personally invested millions in women and children healthcare clinics in his home country – Ivory Coast.
Jointly, Aliko Dangote Foundation; GBCHealth, and United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) believe the coalition will help accelerate economic development and growth of the continent through a healthcare reform agenda that focuses on the wellbeing of employees for a more active and productive workforce.
Dangote, who was represented at the launch by his daughter and the Aliko Dangote Foundation Executive Director, Halima Aliko-Dangote, said it is a well-known fact that there is a vital relationship between health and economic growth and development in Africa as healthy populations live longer, are more productively, not to mention more lives are saved. Access to essential health services is therefore an important aspect of development.
“Governments from both developed and developing countries are increasingly looking at Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) as a way to expand access to higher-quality health services by leveraging capital, managerial capacity, and know-how from the private sector,” he said adding: “Africa’s healthcare systems demand significant investments to meet the needs of their growing populations, changing patterns of diseases and the internationally-agreed development goals.”
Dangote – who is Africa’s most successful businessman, says he is committed to working with governments and key stakeholders for the development of impactful health initiatives in Africa in the belief that private sector leaders have a strong role to play.
At the initial discussions in New York in 2017 Dangote, through his foundation, made an unprecedented grant and seed contribution to GBCHealth of US$ 1.5 million over three years as a call to action and a signal to the African business community of the importance of working together and investing in health.
“The time is ripe for the private sector to proactively demonstrate its value in partnering to lead a new era in development,” he stressed then explaining further: “The coalition can provide much needed guidance to ensure activities and investments are driving results in areas where the private sector can have real impact, focusing on holistic and integrated solutions that cross borders. We look forward to working with other business leaders as partners in development to drive this impact.”
Fastforward February 2019, the birth of the ABCHealth, is being hailed as a major milestone in catalysing Africa’s development goals and its status in achieving the UN-led sustainable Development goals, of which GBCHealth’s Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede, says, “we are still very far from where we need to be to achieve SDG Goal 3.” SDG3 calls for ensuring healthy lives and promote wellbeing for all at all ages.
Speaking at the launch, Aig-Imoukhuede lamented that the healthcare in Africa is constrained by scarce public funding and limited donor support, and that the out of pocket expenditure accounts for 36% of Africa’s total healthcare spend pointing out that given the income levels in Africa, it is no surprise that healthcare spend in Africa is grossly inadequate to meet Africa’s needs leading to a financing gap of N66bn per annum.
He pointed out that African government alone cannot solve this challenge – which is further exacerbated by a fast growing population, and Africa’s changing disease portfolio, and he insisted that to find solutions, there is no alternative but to turn to the private sector to complement government funding.
“Our continent accounts for less than 2% of global health even though our very fertile people account for 16% of global population and carry 26% of the global disease burden. By 2050 Africans will account for more than 50% of global population growth much of that coming from my country Nigeria, a great opportunity and at the same time a ticking time bomb should we fail our health systems quickly,” he decried.
“That is why we have gathered here in Addis Ababa today to see how together we can fix health in Africa. The private sector and the public sector working together as partners have the potential to change Africa’s healthcare from doom and gloom to progress and results. Africa’s private sector has great capacity to be relevant partners…The private sector must be encouraged to optimize and step up its involvement and contribution to health funding in Africa. We have seen what global private sector players accomplished in the fight against the AIDS epidemic through powerful coalitions such as GBCHealth. This is an indication of the power of consolidated effort which Africa’s growing private sector can bring to solving our health challenges,” he added.
The AB:HF was also co-convened by the Addis Ababa based United Nation Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), and speaking at the event as well, its Executive Secretary of the Vera Songwe also regretted the struggles faced by African countries in combating its healthcare challenges, decrying how almost $17.3 billion worth of drugs are imported into the African continent proffering that if Africa could manufacture those drugs, then that would be $17.3 billion worth of jobs created.
“To the private sector, our leaders are expecting you to invest in healthcare because you will get higher returns than you can get anywhere else,” she said welcoming the ABCHealth initiative, as she declared that a healthier Africa would be a happy Africa and a happy Africa will be a productive Africa.
With projected growth in the working population to top 2.5 billion people by 2050 and over $1.3 trillion dollars in consumer spending by 2030, African countries have become inviting markets for investment, business and development partnerships, says GBCHealth, which further believes that African companies and leaders have an opportunity to harness this wave to shape the development of better health programs and policies in support of healthier, more productive and vibrant economies. Both Dangote and Aig-Imoukhuede firmly belive that business leaders know that investing in the health of employees, communities and consumers can protect and enhance future profits — not only ensuring business growth but driving economic prosperity.
“African leaders now have a stronger sense of urgency to combat the lack of quality health care that Africans endure. The inequality of healthcare available to Africans compared to people in other parts of the globe is vast and unacceptably pervasive. With the cooperation of both the public and private sectors, there is a huge potential to boost health outcomes with significant financial gains,” says Aig-Imoukhuede.
And its left to Dangote to conclude in this guest commentary:
“Investing in health will pay off as well. According to the World Health Organization, spending around $30 more per person on the continent to improve well-being should generate $100bn in economic gains five years later. He adds: “As a businessman, I am motivated by the potential returns. But as an African and as a human being, I know the value of improved health is even greater. We are talking about saving and extending lives. Preventing a baby in Angola, which has Africa’s highest infant mortality, from dying in her mother’s arms. Giving a grandfather in Uganda, which has Africa’s highest rate of malaria, 20 or 30 more years with his family.”