Photograph — Brookings

African leaders, ministers, CEOs, and representatives from the African Development Bank, African Union, and United Nations are set to convene in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, for the inaugural Africa Business: Health Forum. The Forum set for February 12, 2019, will take place on the margins of the 32nd African Union Summit and is expected to unify Africa’s key decision makers in exploring opportunities for catalyzing growth in the continent’s economy, through business partnerships to invest in the health sector.

The Africa Business: Health Forum is a vision of GBCHealth, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), and the Aliko Dangote Foundation. The Aliko Dangote foundation has as its main objective the reduction of lives being lost to malnutrition and diseases by combating severe Acute Malnutrition in children in Africa, and also tasks itself with the objective of driving business leadership, strengthening partnerships, and facilitating investments to change the face of healthcare in Africa.

GBCHealth is an organization committed to leveraging the full resources of the business community to meet today’s most pressing global health challenges, working together to make a healthier world for their employees, for the communities in which they work and for the world at large.

The Africa Business: Health Forum will culminate in the launch of the African Business Coalition for Health (ABC Health), a coalition that will mobilize a core group of private sector champions through a coordinated platform to advance health outcomes and shape health systems across Africa. ABC Health helps companies and their leadership contribute more directly to meeting national and regional health goals in the context of SDG Agenda 2030 and Africa Agenda 2063 — ultimately improving the standard of living, quality of life, and the overall health and wellbeing of all Africans. It will serve as the regional platform to unlock synergies that will contribute more directly to a healthy and prosperous Africa, enabled by collaboration and business partnerships.

Business entrepreneurs in the continent are waking up to the reality that good health is good business, and investing in health is both a business and social imperative with studies showing that by 2030, business opportunities in health and wellness sector will reach $1.8 trillion in current prices (Business and Sustainable Development Commission).

Healthcare issues in Africa

Africa is confronted by a heavy burden of challenges in the health sector. With lack of basic infrastructure to provide even basic health care to its people. Sub-Saharan Africa, for example, has the worst health on average in the world. The region has 11 percent of the world’s population but carries 24 percent of the global disease burden, while infectious diseases such as malaria and HIV/AIDS cause 69% of deaths. With less than 1 percent of global health expenditure and only 3 percent of the world’s health workers, Africa accounts for almost half the world’s deaths of children under five, has the highest maternal mortality rate, and bears a heavy toll from HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria.

Some of the obvious challenges facing the continent’s health sector include weak public health management; extreme shortages of health workers; rampant corruption in medical products and technologies procurement systems; dearth of knowledge and skills limiting capacities of national health management information systems; low health investment/financing in the region; and lack of comprehensive health financing policies and strategic plans.

The way forward

At the Africa Business; Health Forum, private and public sector leaders will gather to discuss measures in support of private-sector led growth in Africa’s healthcare. Among other things, sustainable investments are required to tackle Africa’s healthcare problems and more effective public-private-partnerships to develop healthcare infrastructure as a key part of the region’s overall health strategy. According to a recent IFC report, spending on health in Sub-Saharan Africa is expected to double over the next 10 years. Investments of $25-30 billion will be needed to meet the demand, with the private sector playing a key role.

There is a strong rationale for the private sector to play a role in shaping health markets in Africa. The continent currently has 400 companies with revenue of more than $1 billion per year, and these companies are growing faster, and are more profitable in general than their global peers. Beyond these fast-moving regional leaders, small and growing businesses create 80% of the continent’s employment and are stoking the engines of growth.

“From a business standpoint, we are beginning to see the opportunities that could be created by focusing on improving and investing in health,” says Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede, a renowned financier and Co-Chair, GBCHealth.

“There is a need to close the gap on the inequality of life in Africa from a healthcare standpoint and we must look to develop a universal plan that shifts the needle as far as healthcare in Africa is concerned. Health must cease being a source of pain, and become a source of prosperity instead,” he added.

Reiterating the need for business leaders to key into this vision, said: “The best way to move Africa forward is for businesses to step up in health care and take bold action,” said Aliko Dangote, Group President, Dangote Group and Chairman, Aliko Dangote Foundation.

“We must work together, across industries and with governments and communities, to foster innovation and drive more strategic investments that benefit us collectively. The time is now for a new era of cooperation in Africa that will position its people, communities, and businesses for success, now and in the future,” he said.

Vera Songwe, Executive Secretary, of the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) said; “The Commission will play a role in the design and implementation of policy frameworks around the financing of healthcare through Public-Private Partnerships and the private sector. Building on the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), this will also encourage regional transboundary health investments especially in the pharmaceutical sector.”

The inter-relationship between the health of employees and economic growth is increasingly taking center stage in many African countries, and business is being pushed to exploring how to maximize shareholder value as a complex interplay between financial, human, social and environmental return.

Investing in African health systems is an opportunity to accelerate economic development and growth, contribute to saving millions of lives, prevent life-long disabilities, and move countries closer to achieving SDGs and Africa’s Agenda 2063.


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