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GLOBAL NEUROLOGY REPORT: HEALTHCARE IN AFRICA

FOCUS ON ETHIOPIA

The Economist Intelligence Unit recently published a report on access to healthcare in Africa and the Middle East. (www.accesstohealthcare.eiu.com). The report recognized the complex challenges of improving access to healthcare in sub-Saharan Africa, a region plagued by the ‘double burden’ of ongoing communicable diseases and rapidly increasing non-communicable disorders. These problems are compounded by a severe shortage of healthcare workers, poor infrastructure, limited transportation, and a dearth of supplies, equipment and medications.

The Economist Intelligence Unit Index ranked the countries on both (1) accessibility for most disease categories and access to medications, and (2) the healthcare system including coverage, infrastructure, efficiency and innovation. The Index evaluated progress considering current global policy agendas, such as the UN Sustainable Development Goals. It also adopted a forward-looking approach, asking whether each country is implementing the right mechanisms today for optimal access in the future.

Ethiopia ranked at the bottom in a cluster of other sub-Saharan countries. These least developed countries struggle with additional challenges such as underdeveloped supply chains for medications, a significant urban-rural gap in access and, most importantly, a continuing shortage of healthcare workers.

The increasing incidence of non-communicable diseases including neurological disorders is exacerbating poverty and significantly adding to the disease burden. The EIU reports that financial expenses of healthcare drive 11 million Africans into poverty every year. But, as Drs. James C. Johnston and Mehila Zebenigus discussed at the July 2017 United Nations High Level Political Forum, the situation is magnified by neurological disorders which afflict tens of millions of people, typically the young, causing cognitive impairment and physical disability, leading to loss of employment, marginalization, increased vulnerability and exclusion, contributing to a profound impact on the economy.

This EIU Report raises several suggestions for improvement including national health insurance, mobile technology applications, artificial intelligence platforms and focusing on specific disease threats. However, while these proposals may be beneficial if enacted, they do not address the key problem – a shortage of healthcare workers.

Drs. James C. Johnston and Mehila Zebenigus discussed these concerns at the 2017 World Association for Medical Law (WAML) conference and, while recognizing the many overwhelming challenges, recommended focusing on the root of the problem – the shortage of physicians and other healthcare workers. Africa has one-quarter of the global burden of disease but less than 3% of the world’s healthcare workers. The only way to ensure sustainable improvement if to ethically advance collaborative partnerships between developed countries and the least developed regions, with clearly defined goals, focusing on the needs of the South to establish self-sustaining programs that incorporate training, patient care and research, and provide triangular cooperation to improve South-South relations.

This focus on collaborative partnerships is the approach Global NeuroCare has adopted in working with the Addis Ababa University Department of Neurology, and that autonomous program has been extraordinarily successful, soon entering the 12th year, having graduated 32 board certified neurologists, with 21 more physicians in the three-year training program.

Drs. Zebenigus and Johnston serve as Directors of the non-profit organization GlobalNeuroCare.org and will discuss guidelines for developing sustainable collaborative partnerships at future meetings with the UN, WAML and other organizations.

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