Health economist promoting African voices

28 Nov 2018 - 10:30

Associate Professor and Director of the Health Economics Unit at the University of Cape Town (UCT) John Ataguba says his selection to the World Economic Forum (WEF) Global Future Council on Health and Healthcare is an opportunity for African voices to be heard.

Ataguba recently attended the annual Global Future Summit, held in Dubai, along with Vice-Chancellor Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng and Dr Zarina Patel (Environmental & Geographical Science) who serve on other Global Future councils. 

The Global Future Council on Health and Healthcare explores how healthcare systems should look by 2050, given the paradigm shifts in homecare, precision medicine and delivering value to individuals in the healthcare system. The council also examines ways in which the WEF’s platform approach can be used to achieve this.

Ataguba, whose term runs until next September, talked about his role as a health economist and the only African representative on the Global Future Council on Health and Healthcare.

HS: What role do economists play in healthcare planning and development?

JA: Economists can be found wherever there is a “resource”.  Because resources, broadly speaking, are finite and scarce, economists try to ensure that these benefit the population in a way that minimises wastage. In the health sector, economists are very useful in planning, financing and allocating the limited “resources” – and in critical decision-making so that resources in the health sector will go a long way to meet the needs of the population. 

HS: How do you understand your role in this council and what does this mean for UCT?

JA: My role will be to promote an agenda that will benefit Africa – and the world at large. Africans are often not at the forefront of these initiatives and there is an under-representation of African voices in the global discourse of development. This is where I see my contribution. We’ve been tasked with designing health and healthcare for the future in a way that will be appropriate for all people. As [UCT is] a leading research and teaching institution in Africa, my selection further projects the university╩╝s global role. It also shows that Africa is as capable as other continents in contributing to the global discourse on the future of health and healthcare.

Assoc Prof John Ataguba at the annual Global Future Summit with VC Prof Mamokgethi Phakeng (right) and Dr Zarina Patel (Environmental & Geographical Science). Photo Supplied.

HS:  What do you hope to bring to this group, given our “developing countries” economic context and health issues specific to our continent – and given that Africa is anticipating a future youth “bulge”. The council has several experts in the field of ageing.

JA: You’ve touched on an aspect of my research that is heavily under-researched in Africa – ageing.  Compared to other continents, Africa has a larger proportion of young people, which may be a threat or an opportunity. It depends on how you harness the opportunity and minimise the risks.  Fortunately, there is a Global Future Council on Human Enhancement and Longevity that addresses issues of ageing, among other things. [As] I am the only African on the Council for Health and Healthcare (while there are a few Africans on other councils), my participation is an opportunity for African voices to be heard. It is true that health and healthcare challenges may vary from region to region. Healthcare solutions must recognise these disparities and acknowledge that everyone is crucial in this discourse.

“It is the consolidation of these technologies, including the use of artificial intelligence, that’s at the heart of this council’s deliberations.”

HS: What kinds of changes have the “new paradigms in homecare, precision medicine and delivering value to individuals in the healthcare system” precipitated?

 JA: Technology provides us with an opportunity to do things better and more efficiently. While we’ve made technological advancements in many aspects of science, including medicine, these have not been adequately consolidated. It is the consolidation of these technologies, including the use of artificial intelligence, that’s at the heart of this council’s deliberations. We want to ensure that our health systems, irrespective of the country, are people-centred. This means that every health system puts the needs of its population at the centre in providing appropriate services. These include quality, affordable and effective preventive, promotive, rehabilitative, palliative and treatment services.

HS: What is likely to shape future healthcare provision in South Africa, considering the mooted introduction of National Health Insurance?

JA: This is an interesting question. I don’t have all the answers, but I think that Africa has not fully exploited the affordance of technology. This needs to change if we are to meet the population’s growing needs. In addition, strong and transparent health sector leadership will be needed to continue to provide appropriate health services. It’s important to ensure that the current health inequalities are reduced substantially, even though many of the contributing factors don’t lie within the health sector. So, an intersectoral approach will be needed.

Full article