“Public option” or “African option” to solve Africa’s health care crisis?


The health care debate in the United States has sparked fireworks and continues to rage as Obama pushes for health care reform. This back-and forth discourse got me thinking about the state of health care in Africa. 

While watching Charlie Rose interview some of the top researchers and health care experts on the recent influenza pandemic, some of the remarks made during this interview made me cringe – unfortunately, they were spilling the TRUTH – and I just couldn’t swallow their sentiments. They were talking about the recent shortage of the swine flu vaccine in the United States.

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“I am sure at the end of the day we will have enough swine-flu vaccine for the Americans” he said. “And we should later-on send whatever is left over to the developing world.”

I usually point out the names I quote, but this issue is bigger than any name. This is the reality Africa and other developing nations face-amidst pandemics and other crises. The developed world seems to hold the key to our survival, analogous to how insurance companies are holding the lives of many hostage in the United States. Insurance companies deny coverage to many as a result of “pre-existing health conditions.” Africa and the rest of the developing world is denied immediate coverage as a result of “pre-existing poverty.”

This is not news; in fact the swine-flu outbreak only highlights the fate of many in the developing world once the pandemics infest our nations. The notion that one has to make a bucket list as soon as they acquire HIV/AIDS in developing nations, while in the developed world even with HIV/AIDS, you still have a life expectancy greater than any nation in sub-Saharan Africa, demonstrates how catastrophic the health care quagmire is.

This leads to the question: Should the developed world guarantee Africa and other developing nations health-care coverage (public option) instead of throwing us leftovers, or is it time to rely on ourselves (African option)? I have always believed that “African problems need African solutions.” This sentiment might seem as lack of gratitude for the kindness and dedication of many from the west-who are trying to improve the lives of those who are suffering-however, their efforts are not sustainable. We cannot always rely on Angelina Jolie to adopt orphans in Africa who are losing their parents to HIV.  Neither can we rely on the donations made in churches across the western world to send missions to Africa to help build houses and provide clean water in villages. Africans need to be at the front-line of each and every battle we fight. We cannot be cheer leaders while the west leads the war on health care and political persecution in Africa.

In order for Africa to break away from the grip of dependence from the developed world-we need a change in strategy. This starts from our education system.  We need to start sowing seeds in young Africans not to be caged in the world as consumers-but have the potential for innovation, creativity and production. Solving health care dependence requires significant investment in health care research-in our universities and industry.  To avoid getting bread crumbs, Africans need to start baking their own bread. Achieving sustainable solutions requires African ownership and realization of their ideas-with the notion that the long-term solutions come from our communities themselves.  Formulating solutions to our problems provides an incentive for Africans to see them work-rather than make an impression that solutions are imported and imposed on our people.  Africans need to be at the front-line of vaccine and drug creation and production. We cannot just sit and watch millions lose their lives-while waiting for the Good Samaritan. Whether we are talking about millions dying from HIV, influenza and malaria-from lack of access to health care or those dying from political conflicts such as Darfur, the sustainable solution is the “African Option.”  If we fail to hold true to this principle, they will always send whatever is left over to save a few while millions continue to die needlessly.