Accelerating Gender Parity in Africa by Focusing on Better Access to Healthcare for Women

Dr. Abofele Khoele, Managing Director Organon South Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa and Kaushal Shah, Head of Health Strategy, AHB

We know that women are the foundation of a healthier world, and that gender equity is critical to ensure women’s health and prosperity. Women in Africa represent slightly over 50% of the continent’s human resources and so women’s health has huge implications for the region’s development. While progress has been made – particularly within the area of political voice in Africa, where more women are holding leadership in governments in many countries and are being more included at higher levels in the corporate sector, much more still needs to be done.

In her essay entitled The art of the pivot: African women as critical problem solvers in the 21st century , published in Brookings’ Foresight Africa 2022, H.E. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Former President, Republic of Liberia, and Founder of The Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Presidential Centre for Women and Development said, “It is not enough to recognise that African women and girls deserve rights by adopting new laws and frameworks; countries must ensure that these rights are a lived reality. Outside of ensuring legal protections and rights, we must invest in women and girls financially. When governments and international organisations provide targeted and sufficient funding, we ensure women and girls have access to quality education and training, feel economically empowered, and participate politically.”

Her essay demonstrates the progress being made across the continent in many countries, explaining that African women now hold leadership positions in the World Trade Organization, African Union, and United Nations, among others, but highlights the fact that “the majority still fall far behind even the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action’s diffident 30 percent, and the African Union Agenda 2063 goal of 50 percent women’s representation.”
Making sure African women’s voices are heard
As an organisation whose vision is to create a healthier every day, for every woman — by delivering impactful medicines and solutions — involving the voices of women has always been Organon’s top priority. Without understanding Her specific needs, we would lack the insights needed to develop the solutions that will ensure we achieve our vision and goals. Our goal is not to change the conversation about women’s health; rather, it is about making sure Her voice is heard. In 2021, we invited women from around the world to take the microphone and add their voice to the digital “Wall of Voices” at HereForHerHealth. Women responded, sharing powerful perspectives, permitting their faces and voices to be seen and heard at a multimedia installation outside of the NYSE. It enabled us to highlight the health issues they were experiencing but also to gain deep insight into areas where we can help.

The McKinsey Global Institute (MGI), details how the continent still lags behind other regions on progress towards gender equality in society, in particularly when it comes to essential services and enablers of economic opportunity, legal protection and political voice, and physical security and autonomy.

Essential services and enablers of economic opportunity specifically are assessed by looking at a country’s unmet need for family planning, % women (11% World Average vs 20% African Average), Maternal mortality, per 100,000 births (108 World Average vs 438 African Average), education level, female-to-male (F/M) ratio (0,92 World Average vs 0,76 African Average), Financial Inclusion F/M ration (0,74 World Average vs 0,65 African Average), Digital inclusion F/M ratio (0,86 World Average vs 0,81 African Average).
Investing in essential healthcare services for women states that “sexual and reproductive health services currently cost US$7.8 billion annually in Africa—or about US$6 per capita per year — includes programs and systems support and service delivery costs. Expanded contraceptive services help offset the cost of improving pregnancy-related and new-born care by reducing unintended pregnancies. Every US$1 spent on contraceptive services beyond what is currently spent would save US$2.77 in the cost of improved maternal, new-born and abortion care.” The impact of fully investing in essential services would be a reduction in unintended pregnancies, unplanned births and unsafe abortions which would each decline by 78%. Maternal deaths would decline by 64%. New-born deaths would decline by 71%. Cases of infertility caused by untreated STIs would be eliminated.

Women account for more than 50% of Africa’s population, yet in 2018, they only generated 33 percent of the continent’s collective GDP. By investing in accelerating progress toward parity, MGI states that African economies could be boosted by the equivalent of 10 percent of their collective GDP by 2025.
By investing in African women’s unmet needs for family planning; ensuring they have easier access to contraceptives; reducing the maternal mortality rate, providing critical maternal and newborn care, among others, we would be empowering women across the continent to continue to be stabilising force in our communities but also to be able to participate more meaningfully in the formal economy.
Partnerships will boost access to care
A popular turn of phrase that has been repeated often during the global pandemic is “stronger together”, and that’s because we truly are. Across Africa, stakeholders in government, healthcare, and the private sector came together to act quickly, and as early as possible, to mitigate the threat that Covid-19 posed to the continent. Because of this decisive action — though we sadly lost many — we lost a lot less that the world envisaged we would, given our already fragile healthcare environment.
Individual companies, or industries cannot solve Africa’s big challenges alone. We have proven these past two years that a collaborative approach that brings together the public health groups, advocacy organizations, healthcare providers and researchers, policymakers, community leaders, and everyday women who have a shared commitment to bringing these issues to light, will have far greater success, than if we all try to solve it alone.
There are already some successful initiatives happening across the continent to assist women and improve their access to health care. Organon invites all stakeholders to connect with us, to share insights and knowledge, and let us collaborate and partner to strengthen and enhance what is already happening across Africa. We know goals have been set, and that plans have been laid out, but we’re not hitting the necessary milestones, and delays in improving access to health care for women, and slow progress in achieving gender equality mean that She loses, and we as a continent lose too.
We can do more for African women, implement interventions more quickly, if we work together to make it happen. We need to focus on creating action-oriented partnerships that can accelerate the efforts being made to align with continental priorities, because when women rise, we all rise — and when women are healthy and empowered, so too are their families and communities. Let us be united by the common goal of taking concrete action, making meaningful change, and ensure that ALL women in Africa have access to the healthcare they deserve.
About Organon

Organon is a global healthcare company formed through a spinoff from Merck (known as MSD outside of the U.S. and Canada) with a mission to deliver impactful medicines and solutions for a healthier every day. The company builds upon a strong foundation of more than 60 medicines and other products across a range of areas including reproductive health, heart disease, dermatology, allergies and asthma. The company has an international footprint that serves people in more than 140 markets.

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About Africa Health Business
Africa Health Business (AHB) is a pan African boutique consulting firm, headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya, that aims to improve access to equitable healthcare in Africa. Our expert team provides clients with effective, evidence-based solutions for today’s complex healthcare challenges. Clients in government, the development space and the private sector rely on our research and advisory to inform and transform interactions with and use of healthcare systems.

Learn more: Our solutions
About AHBS- Africa Women’s Health: The Role of the Private Sector in Advancing Women’s Health in Africa

AHB curated the Africa Health Business Symposium (AHBS) under the theme: The role of the private sector in advancing women’s health in Africa with the objective to prioritise, explore and strengthen the role of the private sector in advancing women’s health on the continent.

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