Published: June 3rd 2020

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Public Health

Event Summary - 'Pandemics and Premiums: Financing COVID-19 Treatment and Recovery'

Published: June 3rd 2020

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license.

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(Click here to view a full recording of the event)

Introduction

On Tuesday we hosted the fourth webinar in the COVID-19 Exchange series, delivered in partnership with Medixus. It has been a fantastic series so far, with a great chairperson (Lord Paul Boateng), amazing participants and fascinating presentations from our expert speakers. And this event was no different. We enjoyed some excellent contributions from a great lineup, including:

Event Overview

The session was introduced by the Chair, Lord Paul Boateng, who began by outlining some stark facts regarding public health in Africa, including that the continent currently makes up 16% of the global population, yet carries a disproportionately high percentage of disease burden at 23%, whilst accounting for just 1% of global health expenditure. Lord Boateng also referenced the commitments African governments made as part of the Abuja Declaration and the collective failure of these governments to allocate 15% GDP expenditure to public health.

And it was in this challenging context that our first speaker, Agnes Gitau, laid out her thoughts regarding the financial implications of the COVID-19 pandemic in Africa. She highlighted the World Bank’s estimates that African countries will need to spend approximately 3% of their GDP to adequately respond to the current crisis, with a further $100 billion required to finance the public health and wider socio-economic recovery. This is in addition to the $66 billion public health funding gap that existed before anyone had even heard of coronavirus. Faced by such large sums, Agnes called on government and private sector stakeholders,particularly insurance companies, to step up to the mark and do their bit.

Next up, we heard from Dr. Njoki Fernandes who highlighted the paradoxical situation currently enfolding in many private healthcare facilities in Africa, namely empty hospitals during a pandemic, with many facilities being forced to send employees home, cut pay or make redundancies due to a lack of patients. She outlined the disparity of the situation in more developed economies where hospitals have been overrun. It was in this context that Dr. Fernandes argued for the need for individual and organisational accountability and responsibility in lieu of support from the government, calling on the private sector to build more contingency funds into their budgets to better prepare outbreaks in the future. 

And finally, we were lucky to hear from Geetha Tharamaratnam, who spoke passionately and knowledgeably about the role of private equity in supporting the healthcare sector on the continent more broadly. She spoke of the historically low levels of investment in the sector - just 3% of the $17.8 billion raised between 2013 and 2018, emphasising our collective responsibility to do what we can to support innovative organisations working to disrupt the healthcare sector across Africa. She referenced two of her own recent investments, LifeStores and 54Gene, both based in Nigeria. 

Like our other speakers, Geetha also acknowledged the need for governments to step up, particularly in terms of tackling the low rates of tax collection, but she also argued that investors need to fundamentally change the way they think about risk on the continent. With more debt instruments likely to come in as a result of the damage done by COVID-19, investors seeking high returns due to the risk premiums associated with Africa must reduce their return expectations, and instead consider positive health outcomes as well as financial return. 

The speaker's presentation can be viewed in full here:

The full recording of the webinar can be found here. Please feel free to share with anyone you feel will benefit.

That was the end of the COVID-19 Exchange Series, but don’t forget, if you or your organisation is currently delivering a project, programme or initiative related to tackling COVID-19, you can upload your work directly onto our interactive projects map - it’s a great way to spread the word and promote what you’re doing to the global Bobab community.

Also, if you are interested in publishing an opinion piece, blog or interview related to COVID-19, we’d love to hear from you. Contact Nick Staite: nick[at]bobab.org.