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Precision public health best path to a healthier future for Africa

 Some of the health facilities at the Joy Nursing Home in Eastleigh, Nairobi. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

In an era where technology and data reshape our world, a transformative approach in healthcare promises to revolutionise how we address the health challenges facing Africa. This innovative approach, known as Precision Public Health (PPH), stands at the forefront of a healthcare revolution, offering a beacon of hope for a continent burdened by diverse and complex health issues. Championed by global health leaders like World Health Organisation Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PPH is not just a concept but a practical solution aimed at harnessing the power of big data, predictive analytics, and advanced technology to deliver targeted health interventions to those who need them most.

At its core, PPH is about personalisation on a grand scale. It's a shift from the one-size-fits-all model to a more nuanced approach that recognises the unique health needs and challenges of different populations and individuals. This approach is grounded in the understanding that the most effective health interventions are those tailored to specific groups, taking into account their particular circumstances, environments, and risk factors.

To bring this concept to life, Amref Health Africa and the Rockefeller Foundation have outlined four key areas that need our attention: People-centeredness: At the heart of PPH is a commitment to understanding health from the perspective of the people it aims to serve. This involves deep engagement with communities to grasp their lived experiences, challenges, and needs. It's about listening to the stories of individuals and families, using these insights to shape interventions that are not only effective but also equitable. Focusing on people's real-world experiences, healthcare solutions can be designed to reach even the most marginalised, ensuring that no one is left behind in the quest for better health.

Health over healthcare: This principle advocates for a proactive approach to health, emphasising prevention and wellness over treatment and care. It recognises that health is influenced by a wide range of factors beyond the healthcare system, including social, economic, and environmental determinants. Addressing these underlying factors seeks to prevent illness before it starts, promoting healthy lifestyles and environments that support the well-being of all.

Data as a catalyst for change: In the world of PPH, data is a powerful tool for understanding health trends, predicting outbreaks, and making informed decisions about where to allocate resources. But it's not just about collecting data; it's about interpreting it in ways that reveal the specific health needs of different populations. Leveraging advanced analytics can identify risk factors, track disease patterns, and tailor interventions to achieve the greatest impact.

Tailoring Interventions: The final pillar of PPH is the strategic selection and implementation of health interventions. Recognising that different challenges require different solutions, this approach focuses on developing and deploying strategies that are best suited to the unique needs of each population. Whether it's through targeted disease prevention programmes, innovative health promotion campaigns, or the use of cutting-edge technology, the goal is to choose the right intervention for the right population at the right time.

Across Africa, there are already inspiring examples of PPH in action. Utilised detailed geographical information system mapping to pinpoint areas most at risk for diseases like schistosomiasis, leading to targeted and more effective treatment strategies. This precision approach not only improves health outcomes but also optimises the use of limited resources.

Moreover, PPH isn't limited to combating infectious diseases. It also encompasses broader efforts to promote health and prevent illness across the lifespan. Programmes that focus on empowering women and girls, for example, address key social determinants of health and have far-reaching benefits for communities and societies at large. Integrating emotional intelligence training for health workers, providing access to contraception, and supporting economic empowerment initiative programmes exemplify the holistic approach championed by PPH.

The journey towards fully realising the potential of PPH in Africa is both challenging and exciting. It requires collaboration across sectors, innovative thinking, and a commitment to leveraging technology and data for the greater good. But the rewards are immense: A healthier, more resilient Africa where every individual has the opportunity to achieve their full health potential.

As we embrace the possibilities of PPH, we stand on the cusp of a new era in healthcare. It's an era where interventions are not only based on the best available science but also on a profound understanding of the human stories behind the health statistics. It's a future where healthcare is not just about treating illness but about nurturing wellness at every level of society.

In this vision for Africa's health future, PPH offers a roadmap for action. It's a call to unite policymakers, health professionals, communities, and individuals in a shared mission to harness the power of data, technology, and empathy. Together, we can forge a path to a healthier, more equitable future for all.

Dr Meshack Ndirangu is the Country Director, Amref Health Africa in Kenya

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