Investing in healthy African communities is key to growth and prosperity

Zubair Suliman is the investment director at Norsad Capital. Image: Supplied

Zubair Suliman is the investment director at Norsad Capital. Image: Supplied

Published May 27, 2024


By Zubair Suliman

There is no doubt that Africa has the potential to be a prosperous continent, filled with thriving communities.

Achieving that potential means bringing together the continent’s natural and renewable resources with a growing, youthful, and increasingly well-connected population alive with innovation.

But it also means getting essential services right. One area that deserves particular attention is health care.

Health care across the continent remains deeply divided, with a privileged few able to access private services (or even travel internationally in some cases).

At the same time, most have little choice but to turn to constrained public health-care services. Even the continent’s biggest and most industrialised economies struggle with the dichotomy.

Take South Africa, for example. In recent weeks, it has emerged that hundreds of qualified doctors are sitting at home unemployed.

There have also been many instances of health departments, hospitals and other health-care facilities falling into disarray due to dysfunctional management. Similar issues can be found across the continent, with some health-care systems on the verge of collapse.

Research Gate conducted a study that shows significant disparities between the kind of health care available to people in cities versus rural inhabitants.

There is hope, however. By backing innovators in the sector, investors can help ensure Africans can get the health care they need. In doing so, the investors can also play an important role in driving the kind of economic growth and development that will benefit them in the long term.

No shortage of innovators to back

It’s worth pointing out that there is no shortage of innovators across Africa working on the many health-care issues faced by people across the continent. We should know, because we’ve had the chance to back a few of them.

Make no mistake, the scale of the challenge they’re trying to address is massive. A 2021 report, by the Africa Health Agenda International Conference, found that just over half of Africa’s inhabitants have access to the health care they need.

The report also found that the quality of health-care services is generally poor and the family planning needs of half the continent’s women and girls aren’t being met.

Nonetheless, many innovators have taken an entrepreneurial approach to overcoming the challenges.

Take RH Bophelo, for example. Its headquarters are in Johannesburg and it is a health-care investment holding company investing in the health-care sector with a focus on low- and middle-income earners.

It seeks to support the health-care sector and reduce the burden on public services by providing affordable private health care to the underserved population.

Since its founding, it has invested in several health-care providers and facilities, allowing them to continue providing high-quality healthcare at affordable prices.

The Ruai Family Hospital (RFH) is having a positive impact on the health-care space in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi. Kenya faces enormous health-care challenges, specifically in populated areas of Nairobi where there are limited or no full-service health-care providers.

Cancer ranks as the third highest cause of death and the second most prevalent non-communicable disease following cardiovascular diseases in Kenya. And, according to the RFH, the occurrence of cancer is on the rise with reported figures of 47 887 new cases in 2018 and 42 116 new cases in 2020. It aims to address that by improving access to affordable oncology health care for the lower and middle-income residents of Nairobi.

While the work being done by these companies might seem fairly straightforward, the fact that they’re able to provide much-needed services to people at affordable prices deserves to be celebrated. Beyond that, the work they’re doing and their expansions demonstrate the business case for investing in African health care.

A sector that fuels growth

Anyone who invests in African health care isn’t just investing in saving and improving lives either. Health-care investment comes with immense societal benefits. With access to quality health care, more of the workforce can work more of the time.

That’s not only because they’ll recover faster from illnesses but also because they’d need to take less time off to queue at hospitals and clinics for appointments and medicine.

Additionally, investments in the sector can help slow the brain drain of highly qualified health-care professionals, further contributing to economic growth.

After all, if a country has trained someone, they want that person to stay and spend their salary in that country.

The health-care sector is also a job creator, a source of infrastructure creation, and a hotbed of innovation and research. Unsurprisingly, research has shown a strong link between investments in health care and economic improvements.

Given that the African health-care sector is, according to Devex, set to be worth $259 billion (R4.6 trillion) and will reportedly present 14% of health and well-being business opportunities in that time, it should be clear that there is immense growth potential for investors to capitalise on.

Real impact, real returns

For investors who are interested in making a real impact as well as returns, the opportunities are particularly significant.

Our investment in RH Bophelo, for instance, has helped the organisation create more than 1 100 jobs, increase the number of available hospital beds by 520 and facilitate more than 125 000 patient consultations.

Imagine what thousands of investments in African health-care providers, innovators, and entrepreneurs could do. How many lives could be saved? How many jobs could be created? And how much economic growth could be unleashed?

If we want to see Africa reach its full, untapped potential, we need to find out.

Zubair Suliman is the investment director at Norsad Capital.