How Africa responds to the challenge of rapid population growth and the double-burden of infectious and chronic disease bears a direct impact on the economic progression and opportunities available the next generation of Africans. With a population of over 1.2 billion, with many hundreds of millions in rural communities, timely and effective access to primary healthcare remains a fundamental issue in African healthcare.
Sustainable improvement means addressing a wide range of issues collectively: the lack of qualified healthcare workers; infrastructure constraints, including power and water; basic technology availability; and poor social and health education.
While most countries in Africa have made improvements in the delivery of healthcare in the last decade, a real transformation of health systems is needed to realise the goal of efficiency as well as equitable and affordable access.
But no radical improvement in healthcare delivery in Africa can be achieved without a radical transformation of primary care around the needs of communities, patients and health care professionals.
Strengthening community based primary care reduces the burden on emergency and acute care and improves a health systems’ resilience in response to health emergencies and pandemics and supports community development in general.
However, building the future of care is a co-creation process. Due to the complexity of health systems, it is paramount that all transformations are done in partnership and are grounded in innovation along the entire continuum of health. Partnerships between industry, governments and NGOs will enable addressing both healthcare and social challenges collectively, scaling and widening access to health innovation, especially in limited resources areas and measuring the results of interventions using digital technologies
In most countries in Africa, huge investments are needed to create the type of radical transformation that leapfrogs from the current status into a future healthcare system, which addresses the demand for healthcare, and recognises the economic value of health for all, while making healthcare affordable.
Such significant investments need new approaches to financing. Whether that be through PPPs, outcome or performance-based financing, innovative risk pooling schemes, or healthcare saving methods for people on the fringes or outside the healthcare system.
The creation of the Community Life Center enabled Philips to realise its vision on how to drastically improve primary healthcare in Africa’s poorest regions by addressing all causes in one solution. While many projects focus on tackling issues one at a time, they often don’t deliver the expected result because the other surrounding issues are not being addressed.
Developed by the Philips Africa Innovation Hub, the concept of the Community Life Center is a community driven and integrated approach for strengthening primary healthcare which addresses elements such as improved service delivery, a healthy and safe environment, improved data management, robust infrastructure, accessible and user-friendly technology, capability-development, improving public-awareness through community engagement, and good referral and support systems at secondary and tertiary levels of care.
In June 2014, Philips inaugurated the world’s first Community Life Center in Kiambu, Kenya that transformed a rundown healthcare center into a bustling community hub where families gather, children do their homework (under solar powered lights), commercial activities take place, and where local Government representatives raise awareness and inform locals about relevant health issues.
The County Government of Kiambu, local health workers, community members and other key stakeholders were involved in the entire development process.
Within 18 months of its opening (from June 2014 – December 2015), the center in Kiambu saw the total number of outpatients visiting per month increase from 900 to 4080; the number of children being treated quadrupled from 533 to 2370; first antenatal care patients grew by fifteen fold from 13 to 188 patients each month, while the number of fourth visit antenatal care patients each month grew sixteen fold, from 6 to 94. The maternity wing of the center enables women to deliver their babies in a safe and secure environment and since its inception, 634 babies have been born with an average of 36 babies currently born at the facility each month.
The Community Life Centerdemonstrates an integrated model of healthcare that conjoins technology with services and inspires an entire community to change the way it sees and looks after itself. That’s precisely the kind of innovation that can revolutionize society.
This case study is a powerful example of not just the vital need for further investment in robust and decentralised primary healthcare in Africa, but also of the power of co-creation and partnerships. By bringing together all stakeholders to tackle a specific need – government agencies, health workers and community leaders – we can arrive at holistic integrated solutions; tailored to overcome the most severe challenges and constraints.