Influenza in sub-Saharan AfricaAfrica is known for being one of the world’s poorest continents. Poverty directly affects a person’s susceptibility to diseases like influenza. To combat this disease, the future of healthcare in Africa requires funding to improve accessibility in rural regions. Here’s what you need to know about influenza in sub-Saharan Africa.

Influenza in Sub-Saharan Africa

While sub-Saharan Africa only accounted for an estimated 7,000 influenza deaths in 2015, this remains the most common and deadly global disease. The mortality rate of influenza in sub-Saharan Africa affects children under the age of five and those over 75. Though the mortality rate seems low compared to the U.S., it does not take into account the presence of healthcare services in Africa versus the U.S. In contrast to Africa, the U.S. had 22,705 influenza deaths in 2015. While these statistics are higher, the U.S. also has more accessible healthcare.

Furthermore, studies have shown that influenza affects many more people than accounted for. Research from the World Health Organization (WHO) shows 40% of antibodies for flu (B) were found in community members 40 years of age and older. This reveals that the virus continued to circulate with no monitoring processes. Importantly, this lack of surveillance contributes to countries’ and NGO partners’ ability to prepare for the next outbreak.

Higher rates of influenza in sub-Saharan Africa are typically found in low to middle-income regions with little resources and access to sanitation and healthcare. In particular, influenza puts nearly “two-thirds of the 34 million” persons infected with HIV at a higher risk for infection and mortality. Existing diseases such as HIV thus put a significant amount of the African population at risk for influenza.

Healthcare in Africa

Africa continues to possess one of the world’s worst healthcare infrastructures, despite funding from the U.S. In 2006, the U.S. gave R100 billion to the South African National Health Insurance (NHI). However, the U.S. provided $28.8 billion to those uninsured in the U.S. during that year, nearly twice the amount granted for all international health.

Rural regions in sub-Saharan Africa account for 60% the population, while urban areas contain 40%. Rural regions lack accessible healthcare compared to urban regions. Due to industrialization, urban areas have greater access to healthcare facilities and university hospitals.

Across many parts of Africa, the ratio of doctors to patients “is below 1/1000 population, with the ‘ratio of physicians per 1000 population essentially unchanged between 2004 (0.77) and 2011 (0.76).” Demand for physicians within these regions is increasing. However, although Africa is producing more physicians, many migrate to the U.S. This leaves rural regions of sub-Saharan Africa with few qualified healthcare providers.

Solutions and Aid

Awareness and aid are crucial to improving infrastructure and healthcare in Africa, so that it can respond to influenza outbreaks. The W.H.O. has created the Africa Flu Alliance, finding factors leading to the underfunding of healthcare to assess its overall impact. Similarly, the Africa Flu Alliance created a “strategic road map” of targets to control influenza in sub-Saharan Africa. It hopes to influence organizations, private funding and projects to support the organization’s initiatives.

Private sectors and nonprofits contribute to approximately half of Africa’s total healthcare funding and expenditures. Twenty-two organizations and nonprofits are working to combat the gap between health services in rural and urban areas. In addition, The African Network for Influenza Surveillance and Epidemiology (ANISE) was created in 2009, with a growing network alongside the CDC. Continual meetings from 2009 to 2012 allowed officials and representatives to discuss achievements and areas of improvement.

Reducing Aid Dependency: Can It Work?

Despite the reliance on Western assistance for years, President Trump’s foreign aid budget cuts could be incredibly harmful or begin for Africa. Given the situation, governments within Africa will need to strive for improvements in monetary policies, transparency and reduced corruption. To improve self-sufficiency, experts recommend regional integration, or “the process by which two or more nation-states agree to co-operate and work closely together to achieve peace, stability and wealth.” Initiatives like Africa’s Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) will enable 54 countries to trade freely. This will improve Africa’s economic stability by an estimated 50% increase in trade.

The battle of influenza in sub-Saharan Africa correlates directly with the absence of monitoring for significant health concerns. Expanding upon the existing healthcare infrastructure can not only contain and treat disease but also help grow Africa’s economy. Surveillance will be key in this process, as statistics tell actors what they need to improve. But with the support NGOs, funding can help control influenza in sub-Saharan Africa.

Allison Lloyd
Photo: Flickr

Digitization in Sub-Saharan AfricaThe COVID-19 pandemic has shoved decades of progress in mitigating poverty at risk and has already led to a great loss of life and long-term socio-economic damage in sub-Saharan Africa. The U.N. Secretary-General states that the global poverty rate is predicted to increase for the first time in 30 years, which will thrust 500 million people back into poverty. Implementing further broad-based digitization in sub-Saharan Africa can jump-start its economy and fight back against the plunging poverty rate.

The Roots of Digitization in Africa

Kenya has effectively implemented mobile money solutions and established a digital finance ecosystem. This is due to ethnic-based violence that took place in 2008. This turbulence curbed many people’s ability to travel safely, forcing them to adapt to a new way of transferring money without cash: Safaricom’s M-PESA. Swahili for mobile money, M-PESA is a service that enables its users to store and exchange monetary values through a mobile phone. It is a convenient resource that allows users to pay bills. It also allows them to access merchant accounts and create savings and digital credit accounts.

By 2014, M-PESA had more than 120,000 agents who offered guidance for customers unfamiliar with the process. Over 25 million Kenyans weathered the financial uncertainties exacerbated by poverty. Ghana is another country that has successfully developed digitization in sub-Saharan Africa. The use of mobile accounts in Ghana increased access to formal financial services from 41% to 58% in just three years.

Ability to Decrease Poverty

Tavneet Suri is an Associate Professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management. William Jack is a Professor at Georgetown University. They both collected 1,600 surveys of Kenyan households between 2008 and 2014. The surveys examined the effect of increasing numbers of services. The study showed that an increase in the number of mobile services, or agents, incited a rise in consumption and market participation.

Interestingly, the study also noted that female-headed households are utilizing these agents in a more enthusiastic manner. These households experienced a 22% increase in savings and improved ability to manage finances. Furthermore, 3% of women were driven to choose occupations in business or retail rather than farming, which is not as complementary to mobile transfers. Mobile money services are estimated to have the potential to lift 194,000 Kenyan households out of extreme poverty. They are also estimated to initiate 185,000 into the workforce.

The Impact of Expanding Access to Mobile Money Networks

Mobile money networks have spurred a financial technology revolution. It has led to a more modernized financial system for those living in sub-Saharan nations.  This comes with the bona fides of many developed economies such as access to healthcare. Furthermore, digitization in sub-Saharan Africa has led to increased access to pension schemes such as the People’s Pension Trust.

However, even though nearly 46% of global mobile money accounts are based in Africa, only 10 percent of all payments and transactions are done using technology, leaving substantial room for growth. Furthermore, digital infrastructure is often weak in remote or rural areas. This is due to the insufficient returns on capital along with firm regulatory barriers and expensive deployment costs.

Mobile Money Networks Can Elicit Economic Recovery from COVID-19

Small and medium enterprises that were able to digitally diversify have comparatively been far more resilient during the COVID-19 crisis. Therefore, the disaster caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has severely limited the movement of people and cash. This can serve as a launch base for furthered digitization in sub-Saharan Africa. The Kenya Commercial Bank (KCB) has already slashed additional fees for mobile transactions and urged people to steer clear of using cash.  This is part of a plan to “accelerate migration” towards more widespread digital banking platforms. Sonatel, the main provider for telecommunication services in Senegal, is offering no fees for 30 days for digital payments. Meanwhile, MTN Zambia has generated a “no cash, no germs, go MoMo” campaign to encourage people to go cashless and transition to mobile money services.

According to the International Telecommunications Union, augmenting digitization in sub-Saharan Africa by 10% would cause a 2.5% increase in GDP per capita. The U.N. Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development approximates that a $109 billion investment is needed to achieve internet access in Africa by 2030. COVID-19 poses a threat to this estimate. The virus has provoked a $100 billion outflow from emerging markets. It is also important to avoid hastening the existing 34% gender gap in access to digitization in sub-Saharan Africa. Nonetheless, there are governments and companies that remain motivated. They are currently working to propel digital growth in sub-Saharan Africa in order to ensure equal access to connectivity and to mold more vivacious and thriving societies in those that are developing.

Natasha Nath
Photo: Flickr