Thought Leadership

Join us in Lagos for the 2023 Future of Health Conference: Private Sector Integration to Catalyse Nigeria’s Health Landscape

5 Mins read

When you think of the future of health and healthcare in 2023, you have to think about the opportunities that innovation in technology, software, telemedicine, digital health and definitely the incredible new frontiers of artificial intelligence (AI). The Future of Health Conference was conceptualised as a forum to “transfer ideas and articulate the aspirations of various role players for the Nigerian health sector, and for the first time, we are bringing the conference to Lagos, Nigeria — the heartbeat of innovation in Nigeria. As we work every day in search of improvements in healthcare and health outcomes for Nigerians, seeking ways to deliver accessible and patient-centred care to all Nigerians without suffering financial hardship — in the context of an ever-growing population, this can only be achieved if we take full advantage of emerging innovations to drive innovation and growth. 
 
During our first Future of Health Conference in 2015, themed “Defining the health sector of our dreams in Nigeria,” a set of inspirational speakers, including the recently appointed Coordinating Minister of Health and Social Welfare, Professor Muhammad Pate, set out an aspirational agenda for the future. The conference series, now in its ninth year, is shifting its focus this year to the vital role that the private sector can play in building a resilient health system. This is especially important in the context of Nigeria, where despite weak governance in the public sector, we have seen incredible innovation in the private sector driving parts of the economy, including banking, fintech and entertainment.
 
Our first conference, in 2015, brought to the forefront the need for greater accountability in health care. Professor Shima Gyoh, renowned surgeon, Professor of Surgery at Benue State University, and Former Permanent Secretary of the Federal Ministry of Health, and Prof. Mohammad Pate, Coordinating Minister of Health and Social Welfare, both mentioned the lack of regulatory oversight in the health sector and the need for Nigerians to demand accountability at all levels in the health sector. The need for accountability has not been reduced, but what has changed are the instruments now available to operationalise accountability processes.
 
Clare Omatseye, Founder/Managing Director of JNC International, one of the leading private sector equipment providers in Nigeria, elaborated on the key issue of advancing healthcare. In her talk titled “The Uberisation of Healthcare in Nigeria,” she underlined the need to diversify healthcare thinking and solutions that are both affordable and focused on quality, leveraging on the direction of travel of other sectors. Given the scarce access to foreign exchange, we have to get more efficient, given the upfront purchase of expensive medical equipment. These discussions sparked the exciting 2016 conference, which was simply titled Health Meets Tech.
 
It is evident that there is a need to encourage tighter collaboration among health practitioners, technology entrepreneurs, and investors to capitalise on the opportunity of technology and use it more efficiently. The intersection between health and technology is significant for various reasons, including the potential for significant shifts in healthcare delivery, patient outcomes, and population health and well-being. But, to achieve this, we need more entrepreneurial thinking in an otherwise very conservative ecosystem.
 
The Future of Health Conference has traditionally prioritised cross-cutting issues. The fact that the provision of medical services includes large financial expenditure and diverse human resources drove the discussions about health as a business. In many countries, health accounts for 10 to 20% of GDP. To highlight this as an opportunity, we built the 2017 conference around the theme “Business of Health”. Some of the key themes that were discussed included the need for sustainable financing for healthcare delivery, efficiency and transparency in healthcare delivery, and the need for patient-centred care that provides value to patients. 
 
Dr. Nthabiseng Legoete, the founder of Quali Health, a leading provider of primary care services in South Africa, summarised this by saying, “The health sector is the only sector that places all of the risk on the consumer. If you don’t improve, you have to pay for more treatment”. The strategy influenced the health facilities she runs in some of the toughest parts of Johannesburg, which provides healthcare to marginalised people, providing quality, affordable, and convenient care. She described the challenges she was facing in turning this into a profitable service, but her persistence was inspiring and left attendees wanting more.
 
Access to high-quality healthcare was a recurring theme at all of the Future of Health Conferences. Quality healthcare needs a well-trained and motivated workforce capable of providing “timely” and “equitable” care, and one where healthcare workers are themselves well remunerated. Discussions at the 2019 conference “Time to Focus on Quality in Healthcare: Improving Outcomes” drove the “quality” agenda, pushing for improved standards across the board and re-focusing on patient-centred care. There was consensus in the room that service providers must treat patients fairly, providing better care both in terms of treatment, but also in terms of their attitude to patients. According to Dr Obi Adigwe, DG/CEO of the National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development (NIPRID), “quality is not something we should expect, but something that should be worked on using a viable standard.”
 
People are always at the centre of care delivery in the healthcare system. Doctors and nurses, and all other healthcare providers play pivotal roles in providing patients with high-quality care. When a country loses its healthcare workers, it weakens the centre of its viable existence. This is why international health worker migration is challenging. When competent healthcare personnel leave, the country faces huge difficulties in sustaining and enhancing their healthcare systems, exacerbating existing shortages. This topic was addressed head-on during the 2018 Future of Health Conference, “The Diaspora as a Brain Gain,” when speakers highlighted some of the hurdles involved in participating and investing in Nigeria’s health sector.
 
Some major lessons from this seminal conference included the need for the government to be more intentional in providing an enabling environment for diaspora health professionals who want to return. Dr. Atinuke Uwajeh, Consultant paediatrician, who returned to Nigeria after many years abroad to co-found the Paediatric Partners Hospital, pushed hard on this point, reminding us that “returning to Nigeria is not for the faint of heart because there are many obstacles to overcome. It takes a lot of preparation and commitment, but the Nigerian patient is well worth it.” She and many other colleagues are walking the talk.
 
As the government seeks to build a more resilient health sector, it is evident that sustained financing, leveraging technology, and an adequate workforce will be required. Furthermore, the private sector is critical to the development of a sustainable health system. You might argue that we cannot achieve our goals in the Nigerian context without the private sector.
 
The Private Sector as a Catalyst for a Resilient Health System” is the theme for the 2023 Future of Health Conference. Discussions will centre on how best to harness the private sector’s capacity for investments in healthcare, innovation, and efficient resource management for improved public sector healthcare delivery. The progress and future of health that we hope to see will be driven by healthcare’s economic growth potential. Health needs to be seen as a business, leveraging on technology and ensuring there is an adequate and well-trained workforce to deliver care and respond to challenges while meeting the diverse health needs of the population. Can the private sector enable this? We will get answers at the “2023 Future of Health Conference” — see you there.

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