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Jul 17, 2023   |   Blog Post

Using digital solutions to advance the New Public Health Order: Insights from the Africa Health Business (AHB) Symposium

Fig 1. L – R: Emmanuel Njoku (Regional Manager, B Medical Systems S.a.r.l.), Edwin Mulwa (Director Digital Solutions, VillageReach), Annika Krugel (Client and Solutions Director, Vantage Health Technologies-BroadReach Group), Ebai Eyong (General Manager, GE HealthCare), Cyril Seck (Strategy Advisor, Africa CDC) and Karolina Mackiewicz (Innovation Director, ECHAlliance)

By Edwin Mulwa

Director & Team Lead, Digital Solutions

The private sector and digital health play a transformative role in advancing the objectives of Africa CDC’s New Public Health Order (NPHO). This was a key takeaway of the Africa Health Business (AHB) Symposium, held from June 29-30 in Johannesburg.

The NPHO serves as a roadmap towards sustainable health outcomes and security in Africa. It is based on five key pillars: (i) Strong African Public Health Institutions, (ii) Expanded Manufacturing of Vaccines, Diagnostics, and Therapeutics, (iii) Investment in Public Health Workforce and Leadership Programs, (iv) Increased Domestic Investment in Health and (v) Respectful, Action-Oriented Partnerships.

During the symposium, there was a strong emphasis on the private sector’s role in investing in, influencing and facilitating transformational change in the health sector, primarily because private companies possess the financial resources, expertise, physical assets and technologies governments need to provide healthcare for all. 

We discussed practical examples of how digital health can improve access to health information and services at the national level to improve health outcomes. As a member of a panel of experienced peers, I had the opportunity to discuss the potential and importance of incorporating digital health in healthcare delivery. 

I shared the work that VillageReach is doing in supporting governments through co-created patient-centered tech-enabled solutions to improve health outcomes for the most under-reached communities in Sub-Saharan Africa.  Additionally, I highlighted how the Health Center By Phone solution that VillageReach co-created with the Malawi Ministry of Health and other tech partners is helping to transform the patient health journey while enhancing healthcare workers’ capacity to provide quality healthcare services and government’s use of data for real time surveillance and disease outbreak monitoring.

Fig 2. How Health Center By Phone impacts the patient’s journey

Key Takeaways

As Africa positions itself to take ownership of shaping the future of healthcare on the continent, the expert ensemble of symposium participants agreed on the following:

  • That digital health remains a critical enabler to implementing the NPHO at the regional, national, and local levels. 
  • Technology adoption and sharing of health data are the two key challenges that must be overcome for the NPHO to succeed. 
  • Effective collaboration among stakeholders was stressed in order to develop standard data sharing protocols and ensure interoperability among different digital health systems.  Regional and national health institutions will need to be well resourced and capacitated in order to set contextualized priorities and implement technology-driven innovative solutions.
  • A deliberate effort to develop respectful and impactful partnerships between regional partners led locally and globally connected will also be instrumental in mobilizing the necessary financial, technical and material resources for democratizing access to life-saving medicines and equipment. 
  • It is imperative to develop a critical mass of well-trained health workers to respond rapidly to emerging health challenges.

For additional insights on private sector engagement

VillageReach published a perspective on how Low- and Middle-Income Countries (LMICs) can leverage private sector capacity for stronger and more sustainable public health systems. In the article, Joseph Roussel, VillageReach’s Director and Team Lead for Private Sector Engagement, outlines three options for government engagement with the private sector and provides key insights for successful collaboration between the public and private sectors.

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