It is imperative that more is done to meet the needs of women across Africa- in particular, the public and private sector must collaborate to improve the healthcare landscape for women across the continent. We need to find ways to work together, across industries, to reduce barriers to care, and ultimately improve health outcomes for women in the long-term.  

Over the past two years, the COVID-19 pandemic revealed the stark health disparities that exist between countries around the world. It has also exposed and exacerbated the inequities within countries, particularly those facing women and children in low-and-middle-income countries (LMICs). A recent report from the UN revealed that in Africa the pandemic worsened inequalities between women and men, with services like maternal care and sexual and reproductive healthcare being negatively affected.

Even before COVID-19, women across Africa faced barriers throughout their health journey, with challenges ranging from a lack of access to hospitals to cultural roadblocks. The statistics around the impact these obstacles have on women’s health outcomes are alarming: As of 2020, breast cancer was the most diagnosed cancer in the world and the cause of the most cancer-related deaths for women.

At Roche, we are committed to addressing the unmet needs of women across Africa. We’re working to improve integrated, women-centered care delivery and co-creating solutions to reach our broader goal of achieving universal health coverage (UHC).

Fundamental to our approach is our commitment to collaboration and working with partners to support policies across the continent that prioritize women’s health, and particularly women’s cancers; educate women on the risk factors and symptoms associated with cervical and breast cancer; improve access to screening sites and early diagnosis; build local capacity in hospitals and clinics; and bring innovative treatments and diagnostics to Africa.

Our goals are ambitious, but we know that this model of collaboration works:
  • In Kenya, 14 EMPOWER clinics focused on breast and cervical cancers were developed in collaboration with the County First Ladies Association, Africa Cancer Foundation, Women 4 Cancer and International Cancer Institute to provide awareness, system capacity, screening, diagnosis, treatment and education for Kenyan women.
  • In Eswatini, we’re working with the Ministry of Health, other partners, and patient groups to co-create and implement a sustainable cervical cancer programme that will directly benefit more than 40,000 women. Eswatini is also one of the first countries we are collaborating with as part of the Go Further Partnership that aims to reduce new cervical cancer cases by 95 percent among women living with HIV. We hope this programme will be a model for 12 other countries in Africa covered by this partnership, including Botswana, Tanzania and Zimbabwe.
  • In Mozambique, we are collaborating with the Ministry of Health, US government and other health partners to launch Project SALVA, as a holistic solution for cervical cancer screening and treatment.

In Africa that translated to nearly 190,000 new breast cancer cases and more than 85,000 deaths in 2020 alone. Similarly, 19 of the 20 top countries with the highest cervical cancer rates in 2018 were in sub-Saharan Africa.

While these statistics alone are a shocking reflection on what needs to be done to improve individual women’s health outcomes, they also only tell half the story. Women often play an outsized role in shaping the health of their families and their communities, and when we talk about focusing on women’s health, we’re really talking about uplifting health for all.

Consider that with 4 billion women worldwide, 90 percent are a family’s healthcare decision maker . They are 70 percent of the health workforce and 75 percent more likely to use digital tools for health than men . And by increasing gender equality in the labor market, the Brookings Africa Growth Initiative found that African countries can increase their GDP anywhere between 1 and 50 percent.

A Women-Centered Approach to Integrated Care
While there is no one-size-fits-all solution that fits the context of each unique country in Africa, there are concrete actions that we know can strengthen health systems. Healthcare programs and initiatives driven by collaborations between the public and private sector can lead to deeper support by stakeholders, more innovative designs, accelerated deployments, efficient and shared use of resources, faster time-to-healthcare services and better sustainability.
We can partner to build more cancer centers and screening sites so geographic proximity to care isn’t a barrier; we can train and upskill more doctors focused on women’s health issues; we can create a policy environment that enables access to diagnostics and treatments through UHC that protects individuals from financial hardship; and we can support patient advocacy groups to reduce the stigma that is associated with many of these diagnoses. We can provide woman-centered care that prioritises the woman’s individual unique needs, as defined by the woman herself — assigning to the woman choice, control and continuity of care
In short, we can stop viewing health care as a cost, and start viewing it as an investment in our future. By working together – with doctors, hospital administrators, policymakers, patient advocacy groups, NGOs, and local community leaders – we can develop sustainable solutions to ensure a healthier future for all women in Africa.
About Roche

Throughout a 125-year history, Roche has grown into one of the world’s largest biotech companies, as well as a leading provider of in-vitro diagnostics and a global supplier of transformative innovative solutions across major disease areas.

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About AHB
Africa Health Business (AHB) is a pan African boutique consulting firm, headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya, that aims to improve access to equitable healthcare in Africa. Our expert team provides clients with effective, evidence-based solutions for today’s complex healthcare challenges. Clients in government, the development space and the private sector rely on our research and advisory to inform and transform interactions with and use of healthcare systems.

Learn more: Our solutions
About AHBS- Africa Women’s Health: The Role of the Private Sector in Advancing Women’s Health in Africa.

AHB curated the Africa Health Business Symposium (AHBS) under the theme: The role of the private sector in advancing women’s health in Africa with the objective to prioritise, explore and strengthen the role of the private sector in advancing women’s health on the continent.

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