Africa Health: Management of health systems key to building resilience
The pandemic has put enormous strain on health budgets globally and, in Africa, will intensify the dual challenge of a high burden of disease and fragile health systems. With infectious diseases like, malaria and HIV/AIDS being the major causes of death, there is also the growing burden of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, chronic respiratory diseases, cancers, cardiovascular diseases and mental and substance use disorders. While Africa accounts for about one-quarter of the global disease burden while it only has two percent of the world’s doctors. If the region is to reach the health targets set by the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, a new surge of political will have to drive positive change as well as digital transformation and innovative new solutions around healthcare management must be put in place. Jacqui Stewart, CEO of The Council for Health Service Accreditation of Southern Africa NPC and keynote speaker at the upcoming Africa Health Conference, believes that the quality of healthcare should take centre stage on health policy reform agendas and that resources need to be directed to where they are needed on the ground.
“Africa faces severe challenges in human resources, like the shortage of doctors and other resource shortages. It is important that everyone in the sector or in a facility works as a team around the ethos of making patient care the safest it can be," she says.
Grappling with recovery from the blow dealt by the pandemic and urgently seeking to establish resilient health systems going forward, some experts are urging countries to consider using the funding for COVID-19 not only to control and address the spread of the disease but to build long-term resilience in health systems.
COVID-19 brought into stark light the drivers of inequities in healthcare. Research in eight high-mortality countries in the Caribbean and Africa finds that effective, quality maternal and child health services are far less prevalent than suggested by just looking at access to services with just 28 percent of antenatal care, 26 percent of family planning services and 21 percent of sick-child care across these countries qualifying as effective.
Stewart says that while quality standards should address clinical aspects, they should also address patient rights. “While there are pockets of excellence throughout the continent, we believe that quality standards should include patient rights and rights associated to dignity and privacy," she says.
It is therefore imperative that governance must feature prominently in the building of resilience so that these inequities are not entrenched in health systems of the future.
The pandemic has also demonstrated the effects of weak health systems on the economy and people’s livelihoods. A key intervention by health leaders and policymakers should therefore be to increase health budgets and speed up reforms that strengthen health systems.
While much of the world has been forced into the 4IR by the pandemic, digital transformation in many parts of Africa are still lacking. Strategic investment into digital transformation that enables progressive health management and cohesive health systems will improve resilience and pave the way health system overhaul.
The World Bank estimates that South Africa has just 0,9 medical doctors for every 1 000 citizens, and that there are 2,3 health care workers per 1 000 population in Africa, compared with the Americas that have 24,8 health care workers per 1 000 population.
To assist in addressing this shortfall, experts suggest that one solution is for community health workers to be upskilled and integrated into the health workforce. Digitisation of health systems also promises to relieve the shortfall.
Big data and AI will increasingly assist with high level decision-making in healthcare management and assist in streamlining and speeding up everyday management tasks such as triage, while telemedicine and remote health technologies are increasingly taking specialist care to remote rural areas and increasing the coverage of innovative new treatments.
Healthcare management will be a key theme at this year’s virtual Africa Health Conference and Exhibition where business and academic leaders from across the continent will discuss the imperatives of building resilient, inclusive healthcare systems in Africa.
The conference, which is expected to attract upwards of 5 000 health professionals and 200 international and regional companies, will take place from the 25 to 29 October 2021 and registration is free.
For more information, visit https://www.africahealthexhibition.com/en/home.html