Advances and concerns in Africa's health systems: despite Africa's economic growth in recent years, healthcare remains one area where the continent struggles. Governments are faced with the challenge of coming up with solutions that will help maintain a healthy and thriving society. New African examines areas which remain a main source of concern, and those where improvement has been made. Report by Belinda Otas.

Author:Otas, Belinda
Position:Focus on health
 
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As Africa continues to develop economically, so has the need for quality, affordable healthcare increased. Over the last few years, the emergence of the middle class on the continent means many can afford private healthcare, which is in high demand in countries like Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa, creating a booming healthcare industry in sub-Saharan Africa.

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It is estimated that at the end of 2010, the private sector healthcare industry was delivering half of the region's health products and services. Nevertheless, African governments are faced with greater demands and an urgent need to meet the dire health needs of those who belong neither to the elite or middle class. Despite registering economic growth, health experts contend that some African governments may not be able to provide adequate healthcare to the most needy citizens by 2020.

Primary healthcare

Primary healthcare remains one area of contention as African governments continue to falter in their struggle to deliver a robust system that is accessible and affordable for all. Of the eight UN Millennium Development Goals, three of them, MDGs 4,5 and 6 are health-focused. However, there are hindrances to these goals being achieved due to the lack of infrastructure and government policies which are yet to be implemented.

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Dr Ken Simiyu, originally from Kenya, is a fellow at the McLaughlin-Rotman Centre for Global Health, Canada, with a special focus on health innovation in developing countries. In past times, he has written extensively about primary healthcare on the continent. In a 2007 essay entitled, "Healthcare in Africa: Status Projection by 2020", he estimated "over 50 per cent of the African population do not have access to modern health facilities and more than 60 per cent of people in rural areas have no access to primary healthcare."

Dr Simiyu spoke to New African from Rwanda and described the current state of primary healthcare in Africa (with the exception of South Africa) as generally weak.

"Some countries are better than others. But in the rural areas the primary healthcare situation is pathetic. Patients have to travel long distances to health centres, some of which do not even have trained personnel or equipment. You cannot, however, generalise and say the situation is uniform across Africa," he said, adding that African governments have become heavily reliant on medical aid relief and donor support.

He is quick to point...

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