With a population of about 1.3 billion people and vast natural resources, Africa has tremendous opportunity to enhance its social, political, and economic development. These opportunities, however, are matched with significant structural challenges in healthcare. For example, sub-Saharan Africa carries 23% of the global disease burden, yet only accounts for 1% of global health expenditure.
While COVID-19 has primarily affected the Global North since its emergence, epidemiological models suggest the outbreak may accelerate in Africa, presenting a particular threat given its health systems are less equipped than others. As governments and health authorities across the continent strive to limit widespread infections, scaling up investment is vital. As stated by African and European leaders in a recent joint article, “only a global victory that fully includes Africa can bring this pandemic to an end.”
Investing in developing and deploying innovations made for African contexts is a crucial part of a successful global response. African innovators across sectors are driving promising efforts. For instance, in Kenya, 3D printing companies are designing and producing personal protective equipment (PPE) and medical equipment to address shortages. Nigerian fashion designers are bringing glamour to masks to help raise awareness around social distancing. In Senegal, the Institute Pasteur in Dakar is partnering with the UK-based company Mologic to develop a faster, cheaper coronavirus test. Globally, scientists and innovators are collaborating at a landmark pace to develop new tools from vaccines and therapeutics to diagnostics and digital health applications – and it will be essential that these tools are created or adapted in ways that are suitable for different African settings.
Still, the challenge at hand remains unprecedented. There is a need, and an opportunity, for every individual, community and field to play a role, including Africans in the diaspora.
Bringing together members of the African diaspora, this session will discuss existing and new potential ways to harness health and development innovation to support Africa’s response to COVID-19. While recognizing the widespread social and economic damage that COVID-19 has already caused, the session will have a forward-looking focus on the opportunity to forge partnerships and support innovative solutions to save lives and support livelihoods across the African continent. Topics will include the role of Africans in the diaspora to support innovative African companies responding to COVID-19, how to spur economic activity across the continent in light of social distancing measures and opportunities and challenges in the digital health and biopharmaceutical sectors.
Kedest Tesfagiorgis leads the Global Partnerships & Grand Challenges team, building a global network centered in low- and middle-income countries that links creative scientific minds, resources, and focus to reach the Sustainable Development Goals and beyond.
Founder and Managing Partner, Ignite GB Inc.; Co-Founder and CEO, Small World Brands
Josh Ghaim is the Founder and Managing Partner of Ignite Growth Brands (IgniteGB), a new brand and innovation accelerator focused in the Health and Beauty markets as well as investments and support of Women and Minority led start-ups. Josh is also the Co-Founder and CEO of Small World Brands, the parent company of Nuria Beauty and Recharge Health brands.
Commercial Director, Roche
Ndeye Makalou is a highly motivated, courageous global transformational leader with 20+years’ experience in the biopharma industry, with expertise in project management, quality control, clinical and commercial operations in developed and emerging markets. Makalou uses her expertise in effectively leading complex programs from late-stage discovery to commercialization and my skills in building and managing effective multidisciplinary teams.
April 28 Notes & Action Items
Program Introduction, Welcome by Almaz Negash
After welcoming guests, Almaz Negash asked for a few minutes of silence to remember those who lost their lives to COVID-19.
Moderator Kedest Tesfagiorgis laid the foundation of the discussion with participants to emphasize the global community’s need for a coordinated response to resolving the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This is like a world war, except that we are all on the same side.”
Part of a global community, faced with a common enemy
Supporting the communities where we live and the African continent
What is our role in this dual citizenship that we find ourselves in? What is the short-term situation? The long-term?
Goal: Limit the social and economic impact of the disease, for decades to come
“A pandemic anywhere, is a pandemic everywhere”
Importance of science, innovation, and citizenship – need help in testing, treatment, and vaccines
How do we deal with pandemics in the future in a brand new way?
What are your companies doing in response to the pandemic, both locally and globally?
Pharmaceutical background – Roche – production of tests
J&J – medical trials, about to start production of vaccines
Upper respiratory disease focus – flu happens seasonally
Looking at the U.S., 55 to 60 visits of doctor visits are not needed
Data to make those conclusions
Four Steps: How do we innovate at each of these stages?
Who are the most vulnerable? How do you protect them?
Handwashing, masks, simple equipment is available – starting point
Controlling the virus spread – how do you detect it, how do you test?
How do you balance health outcomes with economic outcomes?
What we’re focused on: How do you actually detect the virus enough? Partnering with a few companies going thru FDA approval
Need to make it more affordable so that all countries are doing it
Opportunity to collaborate and bring innovations forward (ventilators)
Also need to focus on digital health: access to health care workers remotely
How much, in the U.S., digital health and telemedicine – Africa has higher potential bc of access to telephones, smart phones, WiFi, etc. – reach remote spaces (seen it in Rwanda and Kenya)
Example in China: WeDoctor – doctors are volunteering to do consultations
This is the area that needs to change
We need more health care workers and doctors, but may not happen anytime soon
We need to boost access
Digital health can be a gamechanger
We are looking for innovative ways, innovation to fight this
Lessons learned and case studies that are bubbling up across the continent, including Senegal: collaborating with UK-based company to bring testing to the population
Are there health systems that we’ve put in place? Spaces to watch?
In Africa, we have experience with infectious disease, so we have the tools and knowledge on how to fight infectious disease – this is the opportunity for doctors, scientists, and researchers to work together w the government to provide an effective response
We also know our healthcare system is ill-prepared for tests and managing cases
What can we do as a continent? What can our scientists do?
We have the platform like HIV in South Africa
That platform and knowledge can also be used with COVID-19 testing
We have opportunities to step up – HIV lessons learns, can build on that
Infrastructure already in place – access to telephones, financial services – how do these help address health care needs?
Text for Babies, MomConnect – text messaging and being able to connect communities with health care workers
Fully run through a nonprofit
What’s missing today: need to take it above one city or one country experimenting with it
Can you do it across sub-Saharan Africa?
Example: only about two or three doctors they could talk to across all of Kenya
Key moving forward: getting governments to recognize that they will not be able to scale the health care worker numbers; but need to start leveraging all the different backgrounds of doctors (Africans, diasporans, friends of Africa) to help
An opportunity to continue to build this network of health care workers around the world, esp. On things like infectious disease
Can we do tests at a local clinic and send results to infectious disease experts?
If there is any place we can do this, it is absolutely Africa
We have so many African experts outside of the continent across expertise areas
Don’t have the structure necessary to practice in continent, but are willing to help
Everyone has a cell phone — if we are able to harness that and work with telecommunications company, we can make a connection between the continent and outside
Such a disruptive effort can have a significant outcomes
Most people have two phones – how can we leverage digitization to connect those people
Need to put aside bureaucracy to find a solution
At the end of the day, you are a global citizen
Technology provides that global avenue
Does bring the issue of innovation in all of its forms
Global collaboration like never before
How do we take these bureaucracies that currently exist to allow telemedicine to be border-free
Starting to see clinical trials, whether that is to test existing drugs, etc
With the current rate of clinical trials in Africa, we cannot wait until drugs are tested in the U.S. and Europe and then tested in Africa population to see what works
Thinking of coalition to do mirror clinical trials
The opportunity that I see – if you combine our experience with infectious disease, running clinical trials outside of the continent, this is an opportunity for African doctors to get together
A pan-African effort – all of the powerful minds combined with experience with infectious disease
What can we do? When in Africa, you don’t see many clinical trials coming to the continent, why?
From my experience, there is a perception that we do not have the right infrastructure that would be acceptable to FDA, etc.
Where do we start? What can be done is starting with capability and capacity-building – nurses, pharmacies, etc.
Examples of great hospitals in Kenya, Ghana, and different places on the continent
There is so much we can inform the world about these infectious disease
More testing, we have more cases
Ratio of death is small compared to the whole pie: why is it different in Africa?
Provide the capability training on the continent, we need to show that we can host our own clinical trials and demonstrate that Africa can respond and inform the world
Now is the time to step up and take the lead
Not only one country can do it, have the collaboration we need
This will require resources:
Issue of co-morbidity: Reading that there is a disproportionate impact on COVID-19 on African Americans and people of color; shows the trend of existing conditions, obesity, diabetes, etc.
Disparities you see in terms of access to health care
Easy for those of us who grew up in Africa to see these disparities
We’ve seen what goes on, and you have places in the U.S. like Chicago, and almost 70% of people who have died so far are African-American
Co-morbidities: diabetes, etc.
A lot of them don’t have insurance, access to doctors that they need, what issues they have
Mistrust – not someone they are familiar with
This is exposing a lot of issues in the U.S. – however, concern about moving on
The health care piece needs to be addressed in those communities and neighborhoods
You need fundamental, basic health care and screening
Don’t want to oversimplify it – heart conditions, etc.
Impact of health care and lack of healthcare is becoming very evident right now
Can talk about mobile phone access, etc., there are communities that have full access to everything else
Governments are going to have to do a little bit more
Basic needs for society to be successful is not fully there
Can be done through a collaboration
Doesn’t have to be one country trying to solve its problems
Willingness, we see it in the African Diaspora Network
Ready to help, ready to collaborate
How do we take that thinking and collaboration broadly across Africa?
As we play a dual role of citizens here of citizens of Africa, what are the innovative ways to address a broken health care system, regardless of where we are?
Places like Africa where funding is nonexistent –
Bring a global citizenship approach to fix our two homes, regardless of where we are
What are issues that disproportionately affect women and girls?
(whether that is through various roles as caretakers, heightened domestic violence, heavy burden in situations like this
Gender equity and equality has to be built as part of our response; women as nucleus of their families)
Women are at the forefront – thinking about responsibilities of women in the society
Have responsibilities ranging from caring for families, providing education — ways we can support women
Psychological support, funding
Companies are dedicating some of funds to COVID-19
Small things each individual can do
Remote education: providing children with laptops to give access
Lots of companies are trying to help with that
The upcoming chat: this is a good example of how people are seeing different things in Africa, but none of it is coordinated
No one is putting it all together
Companies collaborating to bring companies into countries across Africa (Kenya, South Africa, Senegal, this is going to be important)
Start demanding better access and better collaborations – people aren’t following what is happening
Big opportunity for Diasporans to play an active role
This is what we’re doing, these are the things we are doing – lots of lessons learned
How do you take those lessons learned and reapply them?
Also believe that some things, examples of Rwanda and Kenya, are on the other side of the spectrum
To bring the other part of the continents together and have pan-African efforts that we discussed earlier
This will likely not be the last effort we will need to organize and coordinate for
While we fight for COVID, we cannot neglect other areas, i.e. polio (“under control,” but not gone yet)
Issues of women care, child care, baby care – fundamental issues that are already problematic
Need to triage, cannot just divert all funding and resources to COVID-19 and neglect other issues that took neglect
Some items need to get out of politicians’ hands into health minister, education minister, etc.
The ministers of health can make a big difference as long as they have their people’s health and wellness in mind
Need to cultivate a network of labs to work on prevention and treatment
Testing of COVID-19 right now: we now have more regional organizations and amazing leaders in those organizations
Contact tracing – who else has been diagnosed?
To capture the energy of the discussion, African Diaspora Network will be releasing a follow up healthcare survey in the May newsletter to further assess the interests and actions that can be taken to support the ongoing COVID-19 response in Africa.
Ten-Minute Coronavirus Test for $1 could be a game changer(Bloomberg, March 16, 2020)
(Washington Post, March 29, 2020)
Africa needs Afrocentric solutions to beat COVID-19 (Seattle Times, April 12, 2020)
Only victory in Africa can end the pandemic everywhere (Financial Times, Op-ed from 18 heads of state, April 14, 2020)