5 Main Challenges of Healthcare in Africa

Africa confronts lots of health challenges, but there is hope that the continent can address them. The over 738 people who are living in the region need sufficient international support to be able to deal with the public health crisis, according to a recent World Health Organization report. If nothing is done soon, the situation may come from bad to worse. Here are the problems that this continent should address.

  1. Disparity and Inequality

Many parts of the world are reaping from the fruits of new technology. Due to the development, they have significantly expanded and improved their health infrastructure over the years. In the meantime, the health gaps between many countries in Africa and different continents have also significantly widened. The possible reason for this is the inequality in the rate at which different people groups absorb advanced technology. Today, almost a third of the world, Africa included, is wallowing in abject poverty. Because of this trend, many African countries lack the necessary resources to combat fatal diseases, such as HIV/AIDs and cancer.

  • Unsuitable and Fragile Systems

If you have a look at most health systems in the region, you will see that they are mostly a replica of the structures that the locals inherited from the colonial era. They favor the elites and some people who live in urban centers. This weak and inappropriate system lacks the ability to deal effectively with the new and re-emerging diseases as well. They have defied the traditional medical technology. As such, in some instances, the majority of the people who have no economic power to seek medical attention in foreign lands only have access to low-quality service.

  • Worker Shortage

There is an acute shortage of workers in the health sector. This problem is caused by an assortment of factors, including low employee morale, brain drain, misuse of public resources, rampant corruption, conflict of interests, and the inability to hire more experts. Due to the lack of equity in most of these countries, you will find that the majority of health workers are also not willing to serve in rural areas where the quality of the facilities is wanting. School dropout rates are also high. Furthermore, the prevalence of fatal infectious diseases, such as HIV/HIDs, is also something to worry about. It has increased the death rate of qualified doctors. All these factors are responsible for the many problems in the human resource crisis in the health sector.

  • Ignorance

The lack of accurate information among some of the locals is also having a negative impact on the healthcare system. Some traditional believes and myths prevent many of these individuals from seeking proper medical attention when they require it most.

According to a credible study that was conducted in 2005 in a remote village in Africa, many expectant mothers opt to give birth at home despite the risks involved. If you visit this continent, you will learn that the governments have invested heavily in maternity services in the recent past to save the women and their children. However, the new development has not changed the perception of these women. Currently, meetings are held at chief camps to try to persuade them to avoid the risk. Evidently, ignorance is making an effort to improve healthcare in the region relatively futile.

  • Counterfeit Drugs

A few people are using technology in the region to run highly complex operations through which they manufacture counterfeits. They also brand them like authentic drugs. The prevalence of corruption and tribalism in some of the countries helps to ensure hard-working government officials fail at holding the culprits accountable. They also sell their products at low prices, which attract the public due to their low economic power. In the end, patients rely on drugs that cannot treat them.

The Bottom Line

There are several recent successes in healthcare in Africa. However, several problems still prevent the region from realizing its health objectives. The high rate of infant mortality, poverty, corruption, inappropriate and weak health systems, and worker shortage are some of the leading hurdles that the continent is still dealing with. They make it difficult for the region to compete effectively with its equals. Moreover, these problems expose about one billion people who reside in Africa to unthinkable health dangers. For that matter, as you can see, African should urgently begin to work more closely with its partners than ever to improve its healthcare to protect the people’s dignity and human rights.

How to Improve Healthcare Delivery in Africa

In Africa, infectious diseases, such as Cholera, HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis, cause more deaths than other health disorders. Many partners in the healthcare industry have tried to solve the problem to help this continent realize its vision by developing vaccines with no much success. In the recent past, they launched the malaria vaccine, but that have not treated the underlying problems in the healthcare delivery system. What could be ailing the health of this continent? We have identified problems and the relevant solutions that Africa needs to implement. They are not the perfect remedy. However, they can boost the region’s prospects of success. Here are the proposed remedies.

Enact Reforms

The present healthcare system in Africa is the exact replica of what they inherited from their respective colonial governments. They have one thing in common: the lack of equitable distribution of healthcare resources. The only way this region can resolve this problem once and for all is by restructuring the sector and creating new systems that are tailored to meet the present healthcare needs.

As part of the reforms process, the structure should clearly explain the roles and responsibilities of the private and informal sectors. It should begin by the stakeholder organizations communicating with each other to obtain the required consensus first before embarking on the law-enactment route. This way, African will be able to manage the inherently political nature of reforms and focus on delivering a near-perfect health care framework to be able to realize its goals.

Involve Many New Partners

In the past, many countries could only rely on a few international bodies, such as the UN. However, in the present century, several new potential partners have emerged. African can use its universities to research, address a wide range of the problems, and ensure they make the best use of their resources.

Kenya and others already understood the essence of partnering with their institutions of higher learning to improve the healthcare system. AfriAfya recently collaborated with the Great Lakes University (Previously known as the Tropical Institute of Community Health) to make the work of community health ambassadors in North Nyakach, Kisumu, and the rest of the region easier and more exciting. The two organizations established and equipped the Gem Rae Community Resource Center in the location with a high-tech ICT department. Through this, the ambassadors are able to generate computerized reports and analyze them with much ease.

African can also collaborate with the militaries, the target population, and traditional healers. Each of them is a formidable community influencer with the ability to promote the best health practices within their local regions. By working with them, the governments and non-government organizations will experience limited resistance especially during the implementation stage.

Invest in Education

Ignorance has made life extremely difficult for people who want to initiate helpful health programs in Africa. Many of the locals still believe in traditional healers to the extent that they consider the use of modern medicine or technology an evil thing. Others have their own reasons for rejecting this development. However, ignorance is the underlying cause of resistance. According to the community health ambassadors in Kisumu, Kenya, many pregnant women opted to give birth at home despite the availability of well-resourced healthcare centers for their service. For that matter, African governments need to invest more in public awareness and formal education to help these people understand the essence of improving healthcare delivery.

Embrace Digital Technologies

In some parts of Africa, infrastructure is limited. It is a good idea to say the government should act fast to fix this mess. However, that cannot help this continent tomorrow or the day after. With digital technology, however, the patients are able to get the required health care without investing too much money. In particular, they are able to use their own mobile phones to get the required professional prescription and guidance. In Uganda, doctors are using mTRAC to report on medicine stocks across the nation. At the same time, Novartis has invented mHealth and is already piloting it in Nairobi and Mombasa. Through this, it might help African to understand the supply chain cycle of drugs.

The Bottom Line

If African fully adopts these interventions, it will experience increased productivity, life expectancy, and education performance. The expenditure on debts and healthcare will also come down. This is because they will solve the underlying problems that are ailing the healthcare delivery system. As such, the sky if the limit for Africa, but it needs to put more effort into this works to be able to achieve its vision.

A Homa Bay farmer’s triumph over the striga weed

Joel has been a farmer for as long as he can remember. But he had never harvested as much sorghum as he did during the last season and he feels that he would like to share his success with more people.

A farmer in Kanyada, Lieta village, Katuma Sub location in Homa Bay district and also a member of the ICT committee at the Kabunde Chief’s Camp community resource centre, Joel has also undergone training as a community communicator and is involved in bringing information closer to other community members. He is very grateful of the fact that the resource center has become a useful place where information on a many topics including farming methods is exchanged. It is for this reason that Joel decided to have his farming success story published in the Informer newsletter, a community newsletter produced by the AfriAfya knowledge management unit on behalf of community resource centers. It has a wide circulation in Kabunde.

When Joel was asked to explain his success, he had this to say: “I was among some farmers who were selected to undergo some training on a farming method called the “Push-Pull” strategy”. 
Joel says that he sub-divided his farm into two, where on one side he practiced the ‘push-pull’ strategy, while on the other he did not. He wanted to see the difference between the yields from the two sides. He says that he was surprised but at the same time happy to see that the strategy worked very well. He was able to harvest a lot more from the side of the farm where he had practiced the ‘push-pull strategy.

The “Push-Pull” strategy was developed by the International Center for Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE). AfriAfya has facilitated access to this information by linking the knowledge transfer unit of ICIPE to the community resource centres. This is a cropping method that is used to control both stem borer and Striga weed. The Striga weed which is commonly known as kayongo in the local language and the stem borer, which is a pest destroy maize and other grain crops such as sorghum and reduce the harvest for the farmer. Farmers are trained on how to use Napier grass and desmodium legume for the management of the weed and pest in their fields. Desmodium is planted in between the rows of maize while the Napier grass is planted around the maize crop.

However for this method to succeed, a farmer needs to undergo some training in order to understand all the steps involved. Joel is very happy to pass on his knowledge to as many farmers as possible. “Our people are hungry everyday because of poor crop yields and I would like to change this. I am ready and willing to assist as many farmers as I can to grow healthy maize and sorghum”, he says.

AfriAfya has been re-printing and distributing brochures on this method to all the resource centers to support in transferring knowledge of the technique to farmers.

International Human Rights Forum (IHRF)

International Human Rights Forum (IHRF) is an annual event with over 1, 200 people in attendance. It provides a platform where players from the private sector, politics, media, interest groups, science and the civil society can discuss human rights together. This forum aims to give birth to projects which are not only initialized but carried through to success. The IHRF 2010 themed “Human Rights and Pervasive Computing”, took place on May 18th and 19th in Lucerne, Switzerland and attracted people from across the globe. The 7th International Human Rights Forum Lucerne (IHRF) was concluded by the IHRF Concert Classic held at the Culture and Convention Center Lucerne (KKL) where the Human Rights Orchestra (HRO) was performed together with the exceptional Portuguese pianist Maria João Pires. The benefit concert’s goal was to enhance public awareness of human rights and support concrete human rights projects.

AfriAfya was selected as this year’s beneficiary to the funds raised from the concert. Representing AfriAfya was the Director, Dr. Koki Muli- Kinagwi who gave a talk about how AfriAfya has been using ICTs to improve access to health and development information for rural and marginalized communities. The Human Rights Orchestra is an initiative of the Musicians for Human Rights (MfHR) whose mission is to promote a culture of human rights and to help improve the lives of individuals and communities in need. The organization was founded in 2009 in Rome, Italy, by world-renowned horn player Alessio Allegrini and a group of fellow musicians, organizations and humanists active in grassroots efforts worldwide. benefit concert’s goal was to enhance public awareness of human rights and support concrete human rights projects.

Community health ambassadors in North Nyakach Location, Kisumu.

The work of community health ambassadors has become easier and more exciting since they can now generate computerized reports from the information gathered in their community. This became possible following the establishment and equipping with ICTs of the Gem Rae Community resource center in North Nyakach location, Kisumu. The resource centre was established through a partnership between AfriAfya and the Great Lakes University (formerly the Tropical Institute of Community Health) through the community based health information systems (CBHMIS) project.
One of the areas where the equipment has come in handy is in analyzing results of studies. One such study was a baseline survey that was conducted in the two sub locations of Gem Rae and Gem Nam in November 2005. The data collected included immunization coverage, antenatal care visits, food security, availability of birth certificates, facilities for deliveries and so on. Normally, the results of such a survey would have been analyzed manually, but this time, computers were on hand for that. The results of the study indicated that most expectant mothers opted to give birth at home instead of delivering at a health facility for delivery.

This was identified as a major concern in the whole location and in November last year a community dialogue meeting was held at the community chief’s camp to discuss this matter. In attendance were community members, health representatives from the Ministry of health and other stakeholders. There was a lively discussion which brought forth many ideas and also many concerns especially from mothers.

One mother said: “It is difficult to negotiate the fee which is too much for most of us with the hospital health workers. They are very unfriendly and end up hurling insults at you instead of listening to you”. This is when she was asked why she preferred home delivery instead of facility delivery. Others pointed out that after giving birth to the first born, the delivery of the other children was easier and they therefore saw no need of going to hospital.

The health care representatives present in the meeting said that although most community members were aware of the advantages of delivering in hospital, most were still reluctant due to more or less the same reasons that mothers had expressed.
Following the meeting, the community health ambassadors have been counseling expectant mothers in the location on the benefits of delivering their babies in a health facility. The mothers are contacted regularly to encourage compliance. The last follow up was done in the month of April 2007 and they report that response from the mothers has improved. They usually hold these community dialogue meetings ever quarter to disseminate findings of the data they collect. Recently AfriAfya took their work to a higher level by donating some PDAs that they can use to collect and analyse data right in the village instead of using too much paper.