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Dec 18, 2023   |   Blog Post

Shaping the Future of African Health Care Systems at CPHIA 2023

Participants of the Track 7A Event, Leveraging the Power of Partnerships” at CPHIA 2023. (Photo Credit: Kat Tillman)

By Claudia Shilumani

Vice President, Partnerships & Impact

Leaders from African governments, the private and civil sectors left November 2023’s 3rd International Conference on Public Health in Africa (CPHIA) galvanized towards self-reliance and creating more resilient health systems, united by an ambition to make this year’s conference theme of “Breaking Barriers: Repositioning Africa in the Global Health Architecture” a reality.

VillageReach had a robust presence at the conference, as I co-led one of the nine tracks, Track 7: The Whole of Society – The Power of Engaging Civil Society, the Private Sector and Local Philanthropy and also had the honor to be one of the presenters at the plenary session for the track. Track 7 highlighted the role of African talent, ingenuity and resources across multiple players in fostering collaboration and partnership towards the collective goal of achieving Universal Health Coverage (UHC). 

The conference provided a platform for African leaders to share collective insights and best practices across different sectors, at the same time giving VillageReach an opportunity to build new partnerships and nurture existing ones. Among the many activities, we drove and facilitated several side events and sessions with partners. Below are just some of our conference highlights: 

Plenary: Track 7: Whole-of-society – the Power of Engaging Civil Society, the Private Sector and Local Philanthropy

The plenary session, moderated by Dr Amit Thakker, Chairman for Africa Health Business featured an address by Track 7 co-lead, Kedest Tesfagiorgis from Gates Foundation, followed by an explosive panel of speakers from the continent that included AMREF Group CEO Dr. Githinji Gitahi and University of Western Cape’s Professor Nikki Tiffin. Facilitated by the Deputy Director for Africa CDC, Dr. Ouma Ogwell, the panel highlighted the transformative power of strategic partnerships between research and academic institutions with civil society to support governments in driving change in the health sector.  

In closing, I appreciated how well coordinated partnerships that bring to the table those typically left behind, including local philanthropy, was key to self-reliance and achieving universal health coverage in Africa.  

Parallel session under Track 7: “Leveraging the Power of Partnerships with African Philanthropy Diaspora, Private-Public Sectors to Create Sustainable Impact”

Under Track 7, VillageReach hosted a parallel session that brought together organizations, including FHI 360, HigherLife Foundation, Re-Imagine Impact Association Limited, Graça Machel Trust and the World Bank to explore how we could leverage African philanthropy and the Diaspora to finance health care in Africa. 

In my opening remarks, I highlighted the need to commit to domestic sources of funding in order to sustain health and development in Africa and create a balance between global funders and local philanthropic sources. Africa CDC’s call for respectful and action-oriented partnerships means the relationship between recipient countries and funders should recognize the value each brings to the partnership. To create a balanced relationship, Africans need to commit local philanthropic resources to serve as catalytic financing, to help unlock other funding by Africans. This is in line with USAID’s journey to self-reliance and the desire for Africans to fund their own health is evident in the number of global philanthropies that have on staff experts to help figure out how local philanthropies can be leveraged.

This theme of self-reliance echoed through our panel, with speakers highlighting examples of committing to development by leveraging domestic funding sources to finance across Africa through their organizations and work. 

“Everything that has succeeded in the world is because somebody made a big bet. Let’s make a big bet to create financing instruments to take us where we want to go with our health in Africa,” said Dr. Kennedy Mubaiwa, CEO for Higher Life.

“Advancing Universal Health Coverage: The Community Insights to Action” 

Our side event brought together panelists from ThinkPlace, Malawi’s Ministry of Health, the Graça Machel Trust and Africa CDC who discussed their experiences integrating community insights into primary health systems and finding solutions to improve the patient experience by considering their needs and preferences.

Lucy Chigwenembe from the Ministry of Health Malawi gave a real-world example of the different ways of getting feedback in Malawi, including through exit interviews at the health facility. These are then analyzed and used to make improvements. 

Thaddee Niyoyitungira from the Africa CDC also pointed out the importance of community health workers (CHWs) to address community needs, noting that investing in and supporting CHWs is essential because they ensure sustainability in health. 

The panel agreed that community involvement and empowerment can improve health outcomes, especially with project and program implementation and project ownership. 

“Revolutionizing Primary Health Care through Digital Health Innovations for Universal Health Coverage in Africa” 

This side event was co-hosted by VillageReach, HealthEnabled, University of Leeds and HealthSystems Research Hub, with panelists discussing the current state of digital health adoption and PHC infrastructure in Africa, as well as exploring strategies and best practices to overcome challenges in digital health adoption at the PHC level. 

“We have an opportunity for a paradigm shift [in African health care],” said Tapiwa Mukwashi, VIllageReach’s Director of the Global Technical Team, opening the event. 

“Either we must accept that hard things are hard; we just can’t reach everyone, every way,” he said, in reference to the challenges in health care delivery, “or… let’s change the way we are thinking.”  

Edwin Mulwa, VillageReach’s Director of Digital Solutions, also highlighted how policy can be shaped through collaboration with academia and communities of practice, expanding access to health services in hard-to-reach communities. 

“Evidence is really needed to show that these [innovations] work, and also to convince policymakers that they need to invest their resources in this innovation,” he said. 

“HealthTech Revolution: Bridging the Gap for Universal Health Coverage in Africa”  

This side event, featuring VillageReach’s Jessica Mayenda, Senior Manager and Solution Lead of Health Center by Phone, was a panel discussion hosted by Reach Digital Health (RDH).

The discussion  delved into the intersection of digital health infrastructure and equitable access to health care services, with participants using existing interventions to illustrate practical approaches. 

It was emphasized that digital technology has a powerful role  in enabling UHC and can be leveraged by building a robust digital health infrastructure and the health workforce capacity to support effective health care delivery through such innovations.

Other CPHIA activities

I also led an abstract session under Track 7 with six abstract presenters, two of whom were finalists for best oral presentation. The two finalists were on the topics of shifting narratives in public media health coverage and fostering whole-of-society collaboration. 

VillageReach also had a poster presentation on the utilization of local private transporters for improved lab sample transport, with many attendees interested in the intervention’s use in the DRC, Mozambique and Guinea.

Next Steps and Looking Forward to CPHIA 2024

CPHIA 2023 was an action-packed conference with opportunities for innovation, partnership and transformative thinking. We left buzzing with optimism for the future of health care systems in Africa. In addition, CPHIA provided an opportunity for VillageReach to play a critical role in shaping the Africa CDC’s five Cs as guiding principles for the New Public Health Order.

We look forward to participating in CPHIA 2024 and working with both new and familiar faces from our time at CPHIA 2023 over the next year. VillageReach will continue to participate in planning for CPHIA 2024 and we look forward to seeing everyone in Morocco!

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