If you came to last Friday’s Future of Health Conference wondering what “business” and “healthcare” have in common, you are certainly in good company. The aim of the conference was to highlight that health practitioners and other stakeholders delivering health services need to look at the ecosystem around health and there is a need to apply sound business principles in the delivery of healthcare, from the public to the private healthcare sector. From Lagos, Ibadan, Ogbomosho and right here in Abuja, attendees came eager to hear our featured speakers share their unique insights on the business of health in Nigeria from their wealth of experience.
The conference opened with a video titled “The Great Escape: Digital Disruption for Social Equity”, produced by the Joep Lange Institut and shared by PharmAccess Foundation. The video told the story of Gladys, a young mother in Kenya who was the victim of a very dysfunctional healthcare system. Nigeria Country Director, Njide Ndili explained how mobile technology can be leveraged to provide access to healthcare for low income populations. PharmAccess developed M-TIBA, a mobile “health wallet” that enables healthcare access in previously inaccessible areas, transforming the way healthcare is delivered.
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The Great Escape: Digital disruption for Social Equity
The first session, “Breaking down the barriers: Delivering quality and improving access to healthcare” had an impressive lineup of speakers, who with their words disrupted the thinking of those seated in the room and those watching online.
Dr. Olaokun Soyinka, Project Director, Independent Verification Agent for the Saving One Million Lives Programme, was the first speaker and set the tone of the conference when he gave an impassioned talk, stating that “We need to abandon health advocacy. The time has come for us to move on to health activism.” Harriet Blest, Country Manager, Human Network International, continued in the same vein when she made the point that, “There is no point creating great healthcare services if they do not get to the main “end-user”.
Peter Bamkole, Director, Enterprise Development Centre, Pan-Atlantic University, spoke about the need for greater efficiency and transparency in the provision of healthcare, “Efficiency and transparency are critical to sustainability in the business of Health”. He also highlighted the need for more “business minded” Nigerians who would challenge the status quo and disrupt the health space. Bond Emeruwa, Co-Founder/Director, Nollywood Workshops, noted in his talk that “Information is power; Information is health; Information is wealth; Information is everything!”. It was clear from his talk that edutainment is a subtle, but effective way that very important health messages can be delivered. However, Bond warned about the destructive impact of misinformation.
Setting up any business comes with its inherent challenges, especially when you are running a startup in Nigeria. Ezinne Anyanwu, MD/CEO, Efferent Services Limited, drew attention to the importance of partnerships and the need to understand and know the needs of your customers. In the healthcare space, focusing on delivering health services that are focused on the needs of patients, because, as she ultimately stated, “The business of health is the same as the business of humans”.
The last speaker from the first session, Michelle Akande, Country Manager, Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson and Johnson spoke about the significant price differentials and startling mark-up pricing on medicine in Nigeria. This results in vulnerable populations at the bottom of the pyramid not being able to access essential medication. She also spoke about the need for a greater focus on patient-centred care, putting the needs of patients first. She left delegates with the question, “How well do we use the profiles of the people that really need care, to design the system around them?
The Minister of State for Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, made time to attend the conference He pointed out that, “Every year, Nigeria loses about $2 billion to medical tourism. The Nigerian health sector is a work in progress… this is why we need conferences like the Business of Health.”
The second session – “People-Centered Care: The heart of every successful enterprise” – had another remarkable group of innovators who are doing outstanding things in the business of healthcare.
Dr. Ike Nwachukwu, Founding Partner, NIKEA Specialist Hospital, our first speaker for the second session, talked about the “need to be absolutely patient-focused. We need to listen to the needs of our patients”. He urged religious institutions to invest in healthcare, especially given their societal influence and the resources they have access to. He also advised those trying to make a difference to spend some time in the public sector. This would provide a deeper understanding of the challenges the health sector faces, and would provide an avenue to come up with viable solutions.
As Nigerians, we often overlook the role and impact of law on the healthcare sector. Dr. Cheluchi Onyemelukwe, Managing Partner, Health Ethics and Law Consulting, provided an alternative perspective and stressed the need to use the law more effectively as an advocacy tool and to embed changes. She also highlighted the fact that “We need to improve quality in the Nigerian health sector as we raise the regulation bar”.
It was also important to hear how sound business principles need to be applied in the running of NGOs. Dr Farouk Jega, Country Representative for Nigeria, Pathfinder International, pointed out the need for players in the healthcare industry to “… leverage on a lot of promising private sector organizations that employ business principles.” In a similar vein, Dr. Omokhudu Idogho, Deputy MD, Society for Family Health (SFH), Social Business Enterprise, underlined the fact that the needs of customers (patients) always need to be taken into consideration and left delegates to think over the fact that, “…customers have options. We may not approve of their options, but they have options anyway.”
Many countries on the African continent face very similar healthcare access and delivery challenges. In her opening Dr. Nthabiseng Legoete, Founder and CEO of Quali Health in South Africa acknowledged that “we live on a continent where healthcare has become a luxury good”. She spoke about the challenges that many South Africans faced when accessing affordable and quality healthcare. She discussed how it is important to view people-centered care as an important part of healthcare delivery because “the health sector is the only sector that puts all the risk on the consumer. If you don’t get better, you pay for more treatment”. This informed the setting up of her health facilities in Johannesburg, which focus on bringing quality healthcare to underserved communities.
The final speaker for the day, Obinnia Abajue, Chief Executive Officer of Hygeia HMO Limited, brought some real pragmatism with his insights into the way we think about health and healthcare access. He mentioned how healthcare is interconnected and is a social good. He left delegates heads reeling with this thought; “You are not well if your neighbour is sick. We must always be our brother’s keeper”, urging attendees and all Nigerians to ensure that they and their neighbours were registered on a plan with a health insurance provider.
In line with Obinnia Abajue’s thinking, Nigeria Health Watch will be providing links to health insurance plans from three of our partners: Hygeia HMO, Novo Health Africa, and Redcare HMO. As he stated “Healthcare is a must for all.”
For us at Nigeria Health Watch, this is a great start to the conversation around the “Business of Health”, and it is definitely just the beginning. We plan to curate the talks from each of our speakers and share them widely. We will also produce a summary document of the conference highlighting the key call to action points made by each speaker, and share with key health sector stakeholders. We encourage those who attended, who watched online, and everyone interested in the business of health, to continue the conversations begun during the conference. Our hope is that collaborations and innovations will spring up out of these discussions that will continue to reshape the Nigerian health sector.
We thank our incredible conference partners for delivering the Future of Health Conference 2017- The Business of Health, with us; Pathfinder International, PharmAccess Foundation, Janssen Pharmaceuticals of Johnson & Johnson, Society for Family Health, Christian Aid Nigeria, Shell, TY Danjuma Foundation, RedCare HMO, Novo Health Africa HMO, Pro-Health International, and EpiAfric.
Nigeria Health Watch intends to drive the #BizofHealthNG conversation until the necessary reforms are reflected in healthcare delivery in Nigeria. Join us on this important journey.