Courtesy of Ejehi Ihionkhan

On Feb. 27, Black Pre-Health Students at Yale, or BPHY, invited five healthcare and technology leaders from Africa to engage in conversation about the state of healthcare in Africa. 

The five panelists included professors from the Yale School of Medicine and experts from the World Health Organization. BPHY co-president Ejehi Ihionkhan ’23 introduced the panelists, and public health and pre-health opportunities lead Morgan Emokpae ’23 asked the questions. Ihionkhan and Emokpae organized the talk with help from group leaders Israa Mustafa ’23 and Zerubabell Daniel ’23.

The panelists each represented different regions of Africa, including Ghana, Nigeria and the Republic of Congo, in order to dispel the so-called “monolith” myth of Africa being represented as a continent rather than a diverse group of many countries, according to Emokpae. The experts spoke about the problems found in African healthcare systems, as well as potential solutions.

“There’s also this really pervasive narrative that African health is led by outside factors like health brigades and NGOs and outside influences,” Ihionkhan said. “The intent behind the event was to highlight that the center of the development of African health systems are African leaders who are academics.”

At the talk, the panelists agreed that “Africa could use some more intervention, but more engagement and more of a stake from the people who live in those areas once these NGOs leave,” Daniel said. “They need what they set up to be sustainable.”

According to Hani Mowafi, the chief of global health and international emergency medicine at Yale, most of the African countries he has worked in operate within a three-tier healthcare system: the high end of the public sector, including well-resourced hospitals in urban centers; the lower end of the public sector, which contains hospitals with fewer resources and the private sector. The private sector of healthcare in these African countries, while well-resourced, can often be unaffordable and poorly regulated by the government.

Darlington Akogo, another speaker and member of the WHO Focus Group on AI For Health, outlined some of the areas of concern within the healthcare systems of many African countries. He explained that there are some “infrastructural gaps” and cited Ghana as an example, as he said the country only has 10 ICUs, leaving many people underserved.

Another presenter at the talk, Adebowale Adeniran, who is a professor of pathology at the School of Medicine, shared thoughts on Nigeria’s healthcare system.

“Despite the strategic position that Nigeria occupies in Africa, the healthcare system is very poorly developed,” Adeniran said. “The country is greatly underserved in the area of healthcare. The medical equipment is very inadequate. More than half of the population can’t even afford the high cost of healthcare.”

Francine Ntoumi, the founder and executive director of the Congolese Foundation for Medical Research, spoke on the state of drug delivery within Nigeria and the Republic of Congo. According to her, many expensive drugs are inaccessible to residents of these countries, and the government does not sufficiently regulate their distribution.

Ntoumi added that many of the drugs sold in her home country of Nigeria, especially in her area of study on malaria treatment, are fake or inadequate.

“The drugs are very unregulated,” Ntoumi said. “It has been shown that among 100 drugs sold, more than 80 percent were not adequate or appropriate drugs. This is a major issue and not really tackled by the government. In my country, many people die because they cannot [even buy] malaria treatment. The clinicians give prescriptions that nobody is able to buy.”

However, the panelists also shone a light on the positive aspects of African healthcare systems, which they said are not often appreciated from Western viewpoints. 

Emokpae said that this portion of the talk provided him with lots of information on the state of healthcare in Africa that he was previously unaware of, and that it was his favorite part of the event.

Mowafi added that “one good thing [in the health systems] is the sense of community care that I have seen.”

“Because of a culture of caring for each other, it can dramatically expand the number of people with simple training, and you can train family members to help participate in wound care,” Mowafi said.

According to the four BPHY leaders who organized the presentation, it took about three months to gather the panelists who presented at the talk and to finalize all details. They agreed that the work was worth it, to help present this discourse in a way that uplifts and centers African voices.

The talk was co-sponsored by the Yale Nigerian Students Association, the Yale African Students Association, the Yale MacMillan Center Council on African Studies, the Jackson Institute Global Health Scholars Program and the Yale Association for African Peace and Development.

Anjali Mangla | anjali.mangla@yale.edu