Healthcare Innovation and Investment in Africa Event

Healthcare Innovation and Investment in Africa Event, April 28, 2020

African Diaspora Network Impact & Innovation Virtual Forums 2020


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.


Key Questions:
  • How have your individual companies’ work been impacted by COVID-19? What are your companies doing in response to the pandemic – globally, and in Africa?
  • COVID-19 has curbed the movement of people and goods, with many African countries introducing lockdowns. At the same time, we are seeing many examples of innovative African initiatives to help address the pandemic and ensure continued economic activity – from 3D printing PPE to developing a faster, cheaper test. How can Africans in the diaspora support such initiatives and help secure African people’s lives and livelihoods during this unprecedented time?
  • What products and innovations are needed most urgently to respond to COVID-19 in Africa? What stands in the way of rapidly developing and deploying them?
  • There is an incredible amount of diversity on the African continent. How can innovators quickly develop and adapt tools that account for this diversity, and work for different populations?

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.

ADN Impact & Innovation Forum: Healthcare

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.

Context Setter, Kedest Tesfagiorgis

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

  • Not just to help Africa, but the global community
  • “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?

Panel Discussion

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?

    • Detection

    • Testing

    • 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

What does it take to get out of this situation? (Testing, preventive vaccines, drugs that makes people feel better once they are sick)
  • 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. 

Can you talk about communities here in the U.S. and what, if anything, we should be doing as members of communities and global citizens?
  • 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

Audience Q&A
  • 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?

 Action Item:

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.

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