The Health Innovation Challenge's key theme this year was to create an active Nigerian health innovation market place, aimed at improving healthcare delivery through innovation, at the end of the challenge they had narrowed down to about 15 innovative ideas.
According to the Commonwealth Health statistics, health is an issue in Nigeria to the point where in the country’s public spending on health was two per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2011, equivalent to 80 dollars per capita.
“I think healthcare is largely ignored in Nigeria, you find that even for the most basic things people have to travel,” said Herbert Wigwe, Managing Director of Access Bank and Chairman of the Nigeria Health Innovation Market Place.
He explains how the situation is so dire that Malaria for example is a greater killer than HIV/AIDS in the West African country, “It basically takes out about 300 thousand lives in this country, perhaps even a lot more”.
The idea that Nigerians are now using medical tourism as a way to access healthcare concerns Wigwe and is something he finds as “embarrassing”, Hence the decision to create a private sector led initiative.
“Where we start looking for innovative ways to help resolve some of the health challenges we face in our country, so that we can resolve them internally without spending a lot more money on international travels, international medical facilities, and developing these economies,” said Wigwe.
They came up with a coalition of private sector institutions to come up with innovating ways of resolving these challenges in Nigeria.
Wigwe added: “What we have done thus far basically is get a lot of innovative ideas, we started about a year ago and we came up with a reward at the time with about a million dollars to spot innovative ideas in health that would save and have significant impact in terms of the lives of children and women.”
The challenge received over a thousand innovators but only honed in on about 300, and today they have about 42 “for is maximum impact”. The ideas ranged from easy mobile telephony to retail to resolve healthcare issues, while thinking of innovative ways to finance them too.
“Today we have about 42 innovators coming out of the boot camp where we have basically skilled up and said okay, but will have narrowed further down to 15 innovators with ideas “that are ready to go and would have minimum impact in terms of life savings of 200 thousand”.
The challenge was implemented to create innovations that cover a broad range of aspects, but most importantly that the idea should be able to spread quickly and make a palpable impact.
“Quite frankly I am excited at the whole process because I didn't know it was going to be this exciting and if you have watched any snippets of what had happened at the boot camp, you will see that we have very driven people, and who have come with very innovative things,”
Wigwe believes the private sector is not necessarily shying away, at least not only in Nigeria,
“The more developmental an idea is, the less attractive it is, generally for the private sector and for banks for instance, because they are developmental and they are more social in terms of orientation”.
He adds that if both the private sector and public sector are not attending to healthcare, then the economy does not grow, not just the GDP, but the quality of the lives people lead.
“So what we have done is to tell ourselves that we cannot keep shying away from this thing we must all begin to address these issues because they have long term impacts, not just on the economy but on all of them who reside in this country,” said Wigwe.
Wigwe envisages a better healthcare system for Nigeria as a result of this healthcare challenge over time, a future where he hopes Nigerians will not have to travel for every little health issue.
“One of the benefits of this whole thing and what is going to trigger the excitement is when other private sector institutions, that are perhaps not perhaps part of the original thing, see what is happening and the impact that it will have on our country - you will see a lot of interest come up,” said Wigwe.