An interview with Amit Thakker on the pulse of the public-private sector potential for health care in Africa

Amit Thakker, Executive Chairman of the Africa Healthcare Federation and the Africa Health Business and a panellist during the second WHO Africa Health Forum on how to better engage with the private sector, is optimistic that the continental meeting is an opportune time to discuss the critical role of the private sector in achieving universal health coverage.

He points out that the private sector is looking for economic viability and a conducive political and social environment to significantly invest in the health sector.

“We urgently need the right mix of partnerships from the public and private sectors to deliver the promise of quality and affordable health care for all,” says Dr Thakker.

Some areas of engagement that he says are possible with the private sector: are supply chain management and governance.
“The private sector strongly feels that robust and viable partnerships are possible in health,” says Dr Thakker. “The contribution of the private sector in providing better health care cannot be ignored. We are the home of innovations, and we need to work with the policy-makers and other stakeholders to encapsulate affordable and accessible health care for all.”

There are many examples where the public-private partnerships are robust and changing lives positively, he adds. “Rwanda is delivering vaccines and other medical supplies to remote villages through drones, while South Africa is manufacturing their own vaccines through a public-private partnership.”

As he describes it, the universal health coverage agenda is sweeping across Africa at varied wavelengths, based on the unique needs and demographics in each country. But there are essentially three phases: “The naissance stage describes countries that are in the early stages of universal health coverage plans, and these include Mali and Nigeria.

The next stage is the developing stage, where there are teething problems that need to be addressed, such as in countries like Ethiopia, South Africa, Uganda and Zambia.

The third phase is the mature stage, in countries like Kenya, Rwanda and Ghana, where the universal health coverage policy and guidelines are in place and pilot activities have begun.

Despite implementation disparities, he suggests every country first draw a well-defined universal health coverage road map that fits their country profile and health care needs. “There is no one-size-fits-all model,” he reiterates.

He also urges “more intense and targeted public engagement to enhance a concise and practical understanding that universal health coverage does not mean free health care for all.” Universal coverage, he reminds, means everyone has access to quality health care services without suffering financial hardship as a consequence.

The launch this past December of universal health coverage in four pilot counties (Isiolo, Kisumu, Machakos and Nyeri) of Kenya, where he lives, is a realistic way to take stock of lessons learned before the national roll-out across the 47 counties. 

“The key challenges in these four counties will guide us to address the challenges, like solving the increased workload that has currently overwhelmed health workers,” he says, with great optimism.