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Role of medical diagnostics in lowering cost of healthcare

 Roche Diagnostics Africa Executive Vice President Dr Allan Pamba. [File, Standard]

Dr Allan Pamba is the Executive Vice President of Roche Diagnostics (Africa), having taken up the role just over a year ago.

His work involves growing Roche's business in Africa, which involves advocating for investments in medical diagnostics to lower the cost of healthcare. Dr Pamba shared some insights on the medical diagnostics sector with Financial Standard.

How has your time at Roche been over the last year or so, and what is your perspective on diagnostics in healthcare?

We continued with our work locally with communities and governments to tackle the challenges facing patients and healthcare systems throughout Africa. We are taking long-term, sustainable approaches to expand access to diagnostics and healthcare services and partnership is at the heart of our work. Some of the recent progress made for patients through these collaborative efforts include aligning on a robust and ambitious 10-year strategy to grow our diagnostics business in Africa and together with partners, increase the number of tests that we supply to the continent ten-fold.

You shared your experience as a doctor starting out in Kilifi, which shows the challenges in diagnostics. Do you think African nations, Kenya included, focus more on treatment therapies like pharmaceuticals and not diagnostics?

Yes, indeed. In most of Africa, the allocation of healthcare budgets to diagnostics is disproportionately lower than the allocation to treatment interventions. Unfortunately, this results in overall higher costs to the health system and more deaths. Most international support in the health sector in Africa seems to be targeted at treatment solutions, for example, in the areas of HIV/Aids and TB.

Is this one of the reasons behind disproportionately higher access to treatments than to diagnostics?

This bias in financing by international donor agencies is part of the reason. That aside, domestic health budgets also underfund diagnostics significantly, reflecting the gap in appreciation of the value of diagnostics.

How does Roche plan to push diagnostics in Africa as a key element of healthcare?

Beyond the innovations we create, we will endeavour to find innovative vehicles to take quality diagnostics and treatments to the people. These include innovative business models that drive access. We will do this through partnerships between healthcare stakeholders, providers, governments, corporates, and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs).

 In most of Africa, the allocation of healthcare budgets to diagnostics is disproportionately lower than the allocation to treatment interventions. [iStockphoto]

They are critical to creating the vehicles we need to conquer Africa's dual burden of communicable and non-communicable diseases (NCDs). NCDs like hypertension, diabetes and heart diseases are among the contributors to high mortality rates; communicable diseases like HIV/Aids, malaria, tuberculosis and acute respiratory infections also remain significant challenges.

We also seek to invest with partners to support the scale-up of robust laboratories and skilled lab workforce to make early diagnosis the norm even in remote areas.

To what extent would you say investments in diagnostics will reduce the cost of healthcare on the continent?

Studies show that significant savings can be achieved through rapid referral to an expert and the use of Diagnostic Decision Support Systems (DDSS). Faster diagnosis not only achieves savings but also enables the right therapy early and thus increases the quality of life for patients.

In one study, out of 76 cases reviewed, only 51-68 per cent of the total health costs would have been incurred had an early diagnosis been secured. As a continent of 55 countries and abundant resources, Africa holds immense opportunities.

A healthier population means a positive effect on overall economic growth.

As the continent with the world's youngest population, Africa's youth is one of its largest resources and can offer enormous potential in the form of a large and skilled workforce if kept healthy.

How can insurers be part of diagnostics, and how can you convince them it is a good investment for their business?

For insurers, as discussed in the previous question, the cost-saving benefits are immense - both in the short and the long term. Prevention is cheaper than cure and, therefore, makes business sense.

What kind of support do you seek from governments to achieve your 10-year agenda?

We have a saying in Africa: "If you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go with others." We want to go far in Africa in partnership with respective governments and other partners. Governments create conducive environments for business growth, including an enabling regulatory framework, health markets through universal health insurance for populations and infrastructure investments that make remote populations accessible for care.

How do you plan to work with start-ups that might have diagnostics solutions for the continent?

The future of African healthcare is co-creation and co-design. We are open to meaningful partnerships that serve the purpose of better healthcare access for all Africans.

True partners are bonded by transparency, trust, mutual respect and a common purpose. Each partner's specific objectives are shared transparently and success is marked by a win-win outcome for all stakeholders.

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