Yesterday, 150 industry stakeholders, major players, members of the general public and press people gathered at the WheatBaker Hotel in Ikoyi for the Forbes Africa round table in partnership with Phillips Africa on “the State of Healthcare in Africa.” There honestly couldn’t be a better time to discuss this, Nigeria is in the throes of a new wave of brain drain, the likes we haven’t seen since the late 90’s when General Sani Abacha had the country in a political and economic chokehold and constricting poverty forced millions of professional out of the country in search of a better life. This new wave of brain drain has especially targeted the Healthcare industry as a whole, with doctors, pharmacists, nurses and medical technicians all piling up to write the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) and migrate to Europe and Canada.
Coupled with failing infrastructure, a system crippled by recurring strikes and a dwindling doctor to patient ratio and the projected rise in non-communicable diseases like hypertension, diabetes and obesity, we have a tiny window in which to save our failing healthcare system, expand its reach to cover even the most disadvantaged of citizens and innovate newer, cheaper ways to ensure that our growing population remains cared for. For this to happen, Africa as a whole and Nigeria in particular is going to have to embrace technology. This was the main thrust of the day’s first keynote speaker Michael Jackson (not that Michael Jackson). Renowned across Africa for his novel ideas on how technology and healthcare should intersect, Jackson took the room through many of the simple but effective technological advancements across the world that have brought healthcare closer to the people and encouraged the healthcare professionals to invest in the growth of the industry here in Nigeria.
The day’s first panel’s biggest moments came from Clare Omatseye, the president of the Healthcare Foundation of Nigeria and a tireless worker in the Nigerian healthcare sector. Armed with facts from several surveys among healthcare professionals, Omatseye was able to shed light into the current brain drain forcing healthcare professionals out of the continent in droves. Her insights broadly covered the fact that mental health and job satisfaction for healthcare professionals are often ignored and expectations are placed on doctors to simply perform even in medically dangerous conditions because of the hippocratic oath. She spoke at length about the stunted potential for career advancement for professionals here and how these are some of the lures taking our doctors away. She emphasized on Public Private Partnerships, much like the roundtable which Phillips Africa was putting its weight behind, and suggested to Jasper Westerlink, the CEO of Phillips Africa that perhaps, leasing would be an excellent compromise for the company and other tech companies looking to market to Africa’s healthcare sector.
Mrs. Toyin Saraki gave the round table’s second talk, and her talk was the most rousing of the day. As an accomplished philanthropist and the founder of Wellbeing Foundation Africa, it is easy to overlook just how hands on Mrs. Saraki has been in ensuring that antenatal and neonatal care is available to mothers and children. With several thousand women and children reached by her organization and policies in place to ensure that more people are reached, Saraki epitomizes the need for individuals to take on the challenge of providing healthcare for continent in their own little ways. Mrs. Saraki was especially concerned about the state of primary healthcare centres across Nigeria, and how their potential for being the first port of call for serious injury and disease is being underutilized. She asserted that primary healthcare centres are in truth, the only barrier between life and death for many Nigerians and bringing them to the 21st century could save millions and improve healthcare for all. After all, the less strain there is on our mega hospitals, the better service they can provide.
The day’s final event was the one-on-one chat with the Minister of State for Health Osagie Enahire after a second more in-depth panel on technological intersections with healthcare. It was interesting to see Dr. Enahire address the room as a doctor first before a diplomat, empathizing with the fellow doctors in the room who spoke on their challenges in the health sector and lamented the government’s continued to refusal to prioritize healthcare in the national budget. He spoke about how a universal, compulsory health scheme would first, provide all the necessary data to ensure that all citizens could have their health monitored anywhere in the country and would provide the needed financial incentives for private healthcare manufacturers to invest in the country’s healthcare. Dr. Enahire’s insights into government participation in universal healthcare were a fitting close to an insightful look into healthcare, technology and policy.