One Tech Expert’s Eagle Eye view of the Nigerian Health Sector

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Emeka Afigbo of Facebook speaks about the local tech ecosystem during “The Leaders” session at The Future of Health Conference in Abuja. Photo Credit: Nigeria Health Watch

Editor’s Note: Our Future of Health Conference 2016, themed “Health meets Tech”, held last week at the YarAdua Centre in Abuja. For many it was an unusual dynamic; the health sector, traditionally rigid, slow-moving, and full of protocol, sitting in the same room as the tech sector, known for its openness to innovation, experimentation, and antipathy for the status quo. We at Nigeria Health Watch knew that this was a conversation that needed to happen, that this was ice worth breaking… We didn’t quite know what to expect, especially from the side of the techies, but our vision was that this meeting could, would, become something more. Emeka Afigbo, who is Facebook’s Products Partnerships Manager for the Middle East and Africa, was one of our A-list speakers at the Conference. An avowed techie, he reflects in this stirring piece about how his view of the issues facing the health and other sectors in Africa, has changed, and his determination to advocate for more engagement by the tech sector to help solve these problems. Admittedly, most of our readers come from the health space rather than tech, but pieces like this one show the critical need for both sectors to understand each other, for the ultimate change we seek in the health sector to begin. The piece first appeared on Emeka’s Facebook page and is reposted here with permission.

Last week I had the honor of participating in a panel of leaders in the health space and addressing an audience of health practitioners, administrators, policy makers, investors and tech entrepreneurs at the Future of Health conference in Abuja. The event was organized by the Nigeria Health Watch with the theme “Health meets Tech”.
I spoke about why we all need to believe (and invest) in the local tech ecosystem.

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A FULL HOUSE AT THE FUTURE OF HEALTH CONFERENCE DURING “THE LEADERS” SESSION: PANELISTS WERE OLUFEMI AKINGBADE (NHIS), AKINWUMI FAJOLA (SHELL), ERNEST MADU (HEART OF THE CARIBBEAN), MAIRO MANDARA (GATES FOUNDATION), AND EMEKA AFIGBO (FACEBOOK). PHOTO CREDIT: NIGERIA HEALTH WATCH

It was a new experience for me in a number of ways:

– First of all , I know next to nothing about the health sector in Nigeria…or anywhere else.

– Second, I usually spend most of my time addressing an audience of developers and tech entrepreneurs.

Despite this, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and learned a lot from just listening to the wealth of experience that was shared by all the participants, both speakers and the audience.

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DR. NGOZI AZODOH, DIRECTOR SPECIAL DUTIES, FEDERAL MINISTRY OF HEALTH, REPRESENTED THE MINISTER OF HEALTH, PROF. ISAAC ADEWOLE, AT THE FUTURE OF HEALTH CONFERENCE. PHOTO CREDIT: NIGERIA HEALTH WATCH.

Among many thoughts I took away were the following:

1) We (the tech community) need to spend more time with practitioners in some of these key verticals (Health, Education, Agriculture, Entertainment etc…). That is the only way that we can truly add value. There are immense opportunities for tech entrepreneurs if only we engage more.

2) The event was a potent reminder that there is still a long way to go to connect everyone in the region to the services, health or otherwise, they need. There is a need for a lot more out-of-the-box thinking and cross-vertical collaboration. One way to start is from (1) above.

3) It’s great to see how far Nigeria Health Watch has come from just a blog that was born out of necessity to a convener of the top minds in the health space. Consistency pays off especially in a tough environment like ours.

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OLA OREKUNRIN OF FLYING DOCTORS SPEAKS DURING THE “GAME CHANGERS” SESSION OF THE FUTURE OF HEALTH CONFERENCE. OTHER PANELISTS WERE, L-R: NANA TWUM-DANSO (MAZA TRANSPORT), OKEY OKUZU (INSTRATGHS), MARTIN ELUGBAJU (ORACLE), AND OLUSEUN ONIGBINDE (BUDGIT). PHOTO CREDIT: NIGERIA HEALTH WATCH

4) This is the second ever Future of Health Conference. I attended the first one last year and I think that there is something about the format of the conference that makes for efficient transfer of ideas and information between attendees and ensures that the audience stays engaged. This is evidenced by the fact that even after 3 grueling sessions and panels that lasted from 9am to 6pm the hall was still more than half full at the end. It would be awesome if other conferences that are looking to engage techies and people from other verticals could borrow a leaf from them (Future of [Education, Agriculture, Entertainment, Transport] Conference anyone?).

5) We are still some distance from completely networking the Nigerian tech space. I met a number of tech entrepreneurs executing interesting health solutions that very few if any techies outside the health space have heard of.

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OLA OREKUNRIN OF FLYING DOCTORS SPEAKS DURING THE “GAME CHANGERS” SESSION OF THE FUTURE OF HEALTH CONFERENCE. OTHER PANELISTS WERE, L-R: NANA TWUM-DANSO (MAZA TRANSPORT), OKEY OKUZU (INSTRATGHS), MARTIN ELUGBAJU (ORACLE), AND OLUSEUN ONIGBINDE (BUDGIT). PHOTO CREDIT: NIGERIA HEALTH WATCH

The conversation does not have to stop at the Abuja event and to this end, we will be working with Nigeria Health Watch and EpiAFRIC to facilitate closer collaboration between Health practitioners, tech entrepreneurs and investors to see if we cannot come up with sustainable solutions to some of the identified challenges standing between Africans and a functional healthcare system.

Stay tuned!

Well done Nigeria Health Watch!

We, in turn, say well done and thank you to Emeka and all of our amazing speakers. They brought the weight of their passion to bear in their talks and inspired our minds and hearts. We also thank our partners who have stood behind us to successfully execute The Future of Health Conference; The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Facebook, Private Sector Health Alliance of Nigeria, Shell, The TY Danjuma Foundation, Christian Aid, Society for Family Health, Pro-Health International, and JNC International. We also thank the Minister of Health for his encouraging input into the Conference.

Finally, to all who attended or watched via Livestream, we say a heartfelt thank you. We at Nigeria Health Watch are excited to see the innovative solutions that will come out of this dynamic conversation we have just begun, knowing that in the end, the health sector can only be better for it.

Originally published at nigeriahealthwatch.com on September 27, 2016.

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