"Healthcare no longer a social good"
“Healthcare is on the verge of being exposed by technology for what it is – not a social good, but a vastly profitable industry being very poorly managed.”
The words of Mr Ali Mufuruki, from Infotech Investment Group Ltd, drew a powerful reaction at the opening ceremony of the regional conference on “Engaging the Private Sector in Health in Africa”, 14-16 May, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
Addressing delegates from a range of countries who had come to learn more about the potential of the private sector in improving health in Africa, Mr Mufuruki drew parallels between healthcare today and the telecommunications industry of decades earlier, which was also positioned as a social good and yet under the management of most African governments ultimately failed to provide citizens (particularly the poor) with affordable connectivity despite billions of dollars in investment.
“It was the advances in mobile telephone technology and the involvement of the private sector that created the revolution we see today”, Mr Mufuruki suggested, “because telecommunications was repositioned as a business rather than a social good.” Arguing that real innovation in healthcare had been stunted by a narrow focus on tweaking government policy and financing mechanisms, Mr Mufuruki called for a change in mindset among governments and donors, and to escalate the role of the private sector in delivering solutions to the intractable health challenges facing Tanzania and other African countries.
With two-thirds of Africa’s population now having a mobile phone subscription with a private provider, the analogy Mr Mufuruki makes between the development of telecommunications and healthcare is powerful, but is reconceptualising healthcare as a commercial industry rather than a social good the most effective way forward in light of the complex challenges this continent faces…?
This blog is written in the spirit of generating debate and discussion, and does not necessarily represent the views of the HANSHEP Group or its individual members.
 Economist Intelligence Unit (2011) The Future of Health in Africa, p21.