COMMENT: How Africa should use data and digital to protect itself.

Across Africa hundreds of thousands of people have contracted Covid-19 since the outbreak in late 2019.


While official statistics are cause for concern the true numbers are undoubtedly much higher.The outbreak has exposed the weak underbelly of our Continent’s health care systems. For too long they have been under-resourced, under-funded and sometimes mismanaged. As Africa braces for a rise in infections it is time to look at what can be done to improve healthcare before it is too late.


Health is an investment in a nation’s wellbeing and a vehicle for national value creation. Healthy girls and boys go to school, healthy women and men contribute to society, live longer and lead more productive lives. Healthy people are able to save financially, vaccinate their children and do not place added strain on a country’s health infrastructure.
There is a direct benefit to investment in healthcare and unlocking economic growth.
If only it was that simple.


Across Africa there is still much work to be done in building our ability to cater to the millions of patients who need vital medicines or hospital care each year. Many pharmaceutical companies, like MSD, have the capacity to be part of the solution. But, one thing is clear: We cannot do it alone. To radically improve access to medicines and vaccines and for improved healthcare, we need partnerships. The investments that have really paid off in terms of exponential increase in health impact have been done with partners.
Medicines Save Lives.

Partnerships Save Nations.For decades, vast parts of West Africa were suffering from deadly outbreaks of Ebola for which there was no cure.
The 2014 outbreak was one of the largest, resulting in over 4000 deaths as the virus spread across DRC, Guinea,Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal and Sierra Leone.
In 2014, MSD had a vaccine in its portfolio to prevent the damaging consequences of an Ebola outbreak.


There have been further Ebola outbreaks since 2014, but they have been curtailed. We now have over 300 000 doses of the vaccine saving lives in the region.
This breakthrough was only possible due to partnerships with African governments, the World Health Organisation,NGO’s, the scientific community and the local communities.
Accelerate towards One African Market I am often caught saying ‘vaccines don’t work, vaccination does’. If you don’t get a vaccine, you are not protected. It is not good enough to just make the product available, we have to ensure it gets to those who need it.


We want to support the acceleration of ‘One African Market’. Right now patients in sub-saharan Africa are often not getting access to lifesaving products due to regulatory delays. The vision of having one African Medicines Agency,like the European Medicines Agency in Europe, is a great one. If we all focus on patient access as the goal, we should be partnering to make this vision a reality so that patients don’t have to suffer.


Let’s aim to leapfrog not catch up Big data and the power of digital have the potential to transform health in a fundamental way. Already in many African countries, a whole generation jumped from no internet to accessing internet on their phones – completely leapfrogging dial up on their desktops. Rather than playing catch up, Africans should be using data and digital to enable a fundamental shift in how we seek and provide healthcare. We have an opportunity to reimagine healthcare.

Dr. Priya Agrawal – Managing Director, MSD South Africa and Sub Saharan Africa

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