Africa’s population still faces many health challenges. As such, businesses on the continent should be aware of the role they can play in driving better health for all.
The World Health Organisation is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. It’s a great opportunity to consider its many public health successes over the years. However, we can also use the day to look at the way forward when it comes to health challenges the world still faces.
The State of African Health
In Africa in recent years, we have seen healthy life expectancy increase in the region, growing from 46 in 2000 to 56 in 2019. This represents the highest increase of any WHO region over the same period, explains Dr. Kety Guambe. Dr. Guambe is the deputy medical director for International SOS, Mozambique.
“However, it must be noted that the continent is coming from a very low base, with current levels still lower than the rest of the world.”
The report suggests that non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are becoming the main cause of mortality in sub-Saharan Africa. NCDs include cancer, cardiovascular diseases, and diabetes. The reason for this? Weaknesses in the implementation of critical control measures, including prevention, diagnosis, and care.
“In Africa, between 50% and 88% of deaths in seven countries due to NCDs, according to the WHO,” notes Dr. Guambe.
The number of people living with diabetes in the region is expected to reach 47 million by 2045, from 19 million in 2019.
In parallel, Dr. Guambe also reinforces the need to tackle infectious diseases. After all, those such as malaria are on the rise again following disruptions in treatment and prevention methods due to the pandemic.
Addressing Healthcare Concerns in Africa
African healthcare professionals and dedicated healthcare organizations are attempting to curb such challenges across the continent.
For example, the Partnerships for African Vaccine Manufacturing (PAVM) has been established to deliver a bold goal. They’ve been tasked with enabling the African vaccine manufacturing industry to develop, produce, and supply over 60% of the total vaccine doses required on the continent by 2040 – up from less than 1%.
“It is vital to ensure that Africa’s health is safeguarded by ensuring the continent has the ability to manufacture health products on its own to overcome health challenges,” suggests Dr. Guambe.
Managing non-communicable diseases
Dr. Guambe adds that while vaccines can help with infectious diseases, controlling NCDs can be more challenging.
One of the best ways of controlling non-communicable diseases is by making lifestyle changes. These include:
- Limit tobacco and alcohol consumption
- Eating healthy meals
- Practice any form of physical activity
In fact, it is here that the private sector can play a crucial role in improving healthcare across the continent.
After all, health issues impact this sector – at a global level, it has been estimated that NCDs impact economic growth by up to 4% per annum.
The business impact of poor health
The business impact of rising NCDs can lead to lower workplace productivity, higher levels of absenteeism, and premature mortality. All these factors can have a detrimental effect on economic output.
Building a resilient healthcare system
The private sector has a huge role in education and providing access to proper healthcare to employees. In fact, it is within the remit of the business to establish wellness and education programs. These programs will help raise awareness against NCDs among employees, and thus help prevent them.
Dr. Guambe also suggested the following ways businesses can contribute to health and well-being:
- Introducing smoke-free indoor worksites
- Free or low-cost smoking cessation programs
- Anti-alcohol programs and access to healthy foods
- Various stress-reduction measures
“The burden of NCDs falls on developing countries, where 82% of premature deaths from these diseases occur. Tackling the risk factors will thus not only save lives, but will also provide a huge boost to the economic development of countries.”
Dr. Guambe adds that the private sector needs to collaborate with healthcare officials and organizations. Doing so will help build a more resilient healthcare system in Africa, not only for today, but for the health challenges of the future.
“When thinking about the future of work, we need to plan and design for a healthier future,” says Dr. Guambe.
She adds that we need to move into the wellness maturing curve. This includes moving from a focus on reducing healthcare costs, reducing absenteeism, eliminating accidents, and keeping people healthy at work.
Rather, we need to focus on wellbeing as part of a social sustainability program, contributing not only to the well-being and health of workforces but also to that of communities at large. Doing so will pave the way for a healthier Africa.