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Investing in Somalia’s Health Sector

The just-concluded Mogadishu Tech Summit and a World Bank Somalia report on ‘investing in health to anchor growth’ agree on two things; tech innovations and financing in Somalia’s health sector are urgently needed

TSI Writer

The theme of this year’s Mogadishu Tech Summit, which ended on Thursday after an invigorating three days, was; “Investing in Local Innovation for Inclusive COVID19 Recovery and Growth” with a focus on health, education, and the economy.

During the hybrid assembly that included keynote addresses, plenary sessions, startup pitching competitions, exhibitions, networking sessions, and workshops among others; the three major themes were covered in detail, with each discussion looking at how to leverage technology and innovation to build an inclusive post – COVID-19 recovery.

Day one was set aside for among other activities, discussions on health, investment in the health sector, and the innovative health products in the country. Thousands (it is estimated that over 6, 000 people participated in the event over the three days) of people turned up to listen to Mohamed Ahmed Cantoobo, the Director of Social Services Banadir Region, Sahra Noor of Hello Caafi, Khalid Hashi who is the founder of Ogow Health and Dr. Sulaiman, the Director of Kalkaal Hospital.  

Banking on tech to solve health sector challenges

Khalid Hashi, speaking during the event pointed out the importance of community access to health services and how technology, when properly deployed, can bridge the gap between inaccessible health services and quality health services.

“When we talk about the Somalia health ecosystem, many innovations take place and there are numerous challenges arising. Collaboration is one of the techniques that we can overcome health-related obstacles. We have supported the community in accessing quality health services while taking advantage of technology. I believe that without technology, society would not have access to quality services,”

Khalid Hashi, Founder/ CEO of Ogow Health

“If we want to address our health needs, we must first work together to help each other. That help includes investing in innovative health services. This crisis has taught us to rely on each other and to bring in vital medical equipment, which was not available in the country. In the health sector, integration has always been important, and it is one of the hallmarks of development,” said Dr. Suleiman, the Director of Kalkaal Hospital.

Investment is lacking

And as they spoke, the need for investment and innovation in the health sector became apparent. Speaker after speaker bemoaned the lack of substantial capital investment in the sector. A notion that was perhaps best captured by Mohamed Cantoobo, Director of Social Services for Banadir Region when he said;

“The challenge is that our people do not see it as important to invest in health services. There is a major need to focus on this.”

Published by the World Bank in June 2021, but released in September, a report, The Somalia Economic Update (6th edition): Investing in Health to Anchor Growth, touched heavily on the lack of investment in Somalia’s health sector. In fact, according to the report; Somalia’s health system is among the most fragile in the world, with health outcomes that lag in comparison to neighboring countries.

The report notes; “Investing in health represents an investment in the economy and economic development. A study by McKinsey Global Institute in 2020 estimates that every $1 invested in health in a developing country yields $2 to $4 in economic returns. Investments in health increase life expectancy and productivity, which spur GDP growth and economic development. Robust health systems with the capacity to detect and respond to cases are a cornerstone of pandemic and emergency preparedness and contribute to maintaining economic stability and growth.”

Lagging health outcomes

The health outcomes in Somalia lag compared to those of neighboring countries. For example, life expectancy is lower in Somalia (at 57.0 years) compared to that of Kenya which stands at 66.3 years. The report reveals that fertility rates are higher at 6.9 children per woman compared with 4.6 in Ethiopia as is maternal mortality at 692 per 100,000 compared with an average of 534 in Sub-Saharan Africa.

It further notes that poor health outcomes reflect lagging health service delivery. And that only 32 percent of births are delivered by a skilled health provider; just 24 percent of women receive antenatal, preventative care visits during pregnancy; and only 12 percent of children are fully immunized against diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus.

It is apparent that there are parallels between the findings of the World Bank report and the conversations during the just concluded Mogadishu Tech Summit. The question of investment in health and access to financing with reference to medical innovations and health sector technological developments, in general, has certainly gripped decision-makers in the sector, government representatives, and innovators.

At the moment, Somalia’s Ministry of Health is nascent and health governance and financing capacities are not yet fully developed. Per the report, Somalia has limited capacity for health sector regulation, data collection, and use, or oversight of health services. Government health service delivery capacity is underdeveloped, with an inpatient bed density of 5.34 beds per 10,000 population (although this has perhaps changed), substantially below the target density set by the World Health Organization.

Data and tech innovation

Yet these are areas in which both technological innovation, a collaboration between health sector players, and investment (plus the availability of financing) in both private and public-private partnerships are greatly needed. Data collection and data use in the health sector for instance are areas that could greatly benefit from technological enhancements that are tailor-made specifically for Somalia.

“Investments in Somalia’s health sector are expected to contribute to economic growth in Somalia in the long term. Targeted investments in health service delivery, financing, and sector stewardship would strengthen the health sector, improving health outcomes and increasing emergency and epidemic preparedness toward economic stability and growth,”

The Somalia Economic Update: Investing in Health to Anchor Growth.

    The report comes to the same conclusion as the ‘innovation in health’ Mogadishu Tech Summit speakers, and that is; there is a need to increase resource mobilization for the health sector, and increase investments in health as the resource base expands. That both the public and private sectors should work towards financing high-impact, cost-effective interventions to rapidly improve health outcomes.

On data handling and data use; both the Summit speakers and the report calls for the strengthening of the Health Management Information System (HMIS), through a focus on improved data quality and data use. They also both recommend the introduction of digital data options to improve the timeliness of data.

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