PharmAccess: Innovating Healthcare Access in Africa

“Pregnant women in Africa, for example, are dying not because the world cannot solve a medical problem, but because the world cannot decide how to get the care that they need to them. There should be innovative approaches that ensure that people, irrespective of their incomes and where they live, can obtain access to better healthcare,” explains Kwasi Boahene, Director for Health Systems at PharmAccess.

PharmAccess, an entrepreneurial, non-profit organization is dedicated to connecting more people to better healthcare in Africa. Established in 2001 by the late Prof. Joep Lange, the organization mobilizes private and public partnerships, investments, and innovations to reach everyone in sub-Saharan Africa. PharmAccess works with diverse local and international partners. The Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been a long-term, committed partner.

Kwasi’s role at PharmAccess focuses on strengthening partnerships for innovating health financing and delivery. He has worked in about 25 countries across Latin America, Asia and Africa. “My goal is to ensure that African governments and the private sector prioritize innovations to enhance better financing and delivery of healthcare in the long term. They have to make sure their citizens have access to care.”

The importance of innovation

PharmAccess holds a unique approach to healthcare, emphasizing the importance of innovation, public-private partnerships, and sustainable financing and delivery models. PharmAccess empowers private entrepreneurs to develop healthcare as a business, making it more sustainable. With offices in Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, and Tanzania, PharmAccess operates across multiple African countries, making a meaningful impact on healthcare delivery. Kwasi: “We recognize the pivotal role of mobile technology in Africa, where mobile payment transactions contribute significantly to the national income. Drawing parallels between mobile finance and healthcare, we seek to harness these innovations to improve healthcare delivery and financing”.

Technology and data

Technology and data play a crucial role in PharmAccess’ strategy. By leveraging digital tools and data analytics, the organization strives to enhance efficiency in the financing and delivery of healthcare and to improve health outcomes for patients. Kwasi: “10% of Africa’s GDP is from mobile payment transactions. In the Netherlands, that is only 2%. This means that African people are using mobile innovations for business more than the Dutch people do. Many Africans can participate in financial transactions now because of mobile payments. The question is: how can we use these mobile innovations to also improve access to affordable care?”

In Kenya, a Dutch-Kenyan social enterprise (a partner of PharmAccess), CarePay International, has developed a mobile health payment platform that enables people to obtain access to affordable care via their telephones. About 4.7 million Kenyans and 5,000 healthcare facilities are currently using the platform in Kenya. Kwasi: “When we use these innovations we get access to accurate and real-time data. That data can provide better insights into how we can help meet the needs of patients better. Ultimately, we can improve our initiatives to deliver more value for patients, healthcare providers, and African governments.” Furthermore, research and advocacy form integral components of their initiatives, enabling evidence-based decision-making and policy influence.

Financial support for health entrepreneurs

Central to its mission, PharmAccess has set up an impact fund (Medical Credit Fund) to help improve the business of health care. Kwasi: “It provides business advice to entrepreneurs who want to go into healthcare and provides financing that they can use to invest. So far we have provided loans to about 2000 healthcare facilities worth over 160 million euros.” Healthcare facilities – both public and private – also benefit from SafeCare, an intervention that enables these facilities to deliver better care using international standards. Currently, SafeCare has improved the quality of healthcare services to about 7,000 providers in 21 countries, with these providers seeing over 8 million patient visits per month.

Working with the Global Health Hub

Kwasi: “The strength of the Hub is that it brings all these different entities together. We have research and knowledge institutions, civil society organizations, companies, and governmental organizations. We all have different backgrounds and experiences. We can bring it together to strengthen our policy-making. I signed myself up as co-chair of Community of Practice 1; we focus on strengthening health systems. The biggest thing we have accomplished so far is the contribution towards the development of the Dutch Global Health Strategy. An important development. It’s supported not only by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs but also by the Ministry of Health. Secondly, the capacity of the hub to convene relevant and exciting meetings provides us with a podium to share our work. I truly believe we can build resilient health systems. But we have to do it together. The Hub is a good beginning.”