The Global Coronavirus Pandemic (also known as SARS-CoV-2 or COVID-19), remains the major headlines all over the world. It has become a catalyst fast bringing many long simmering social and economic problems to the boil. It has put huge pressure on the health services and resources of almost every country on the Planet. Healthcare systems throughout the world which remain largely in the industrial age are unable to cope with the prevailing international and national demands and challenges without major restructuring. COVID-19 has reinforced the need for international collaboration and the imperative to build stronger health systems for Universal Health Coverage (UHC), including financial risk protection, access to quality essential health-care services and access to safe, effective, quality and affordable essential medicines and vaccines for all.
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines Universal Health Coverage (UHC) as the desired performance of a successful healthcare system, whereby all people are provided with access to needed health services (including prevention, promotion, treatment, rehabilitation and palliation) of sufficient quality to be effective without causing financial hardship. Accordingly, many countries have identified Universal Health Coverage (UHC) as the goal for their healthcare systems, and healthcare infrastructure, an important component of a well-functioning healthcare system is at the core of the strategy to achieving this.
Achieving UHC thus entails implementing interventions that target both the supply and demand-sides of the health care system. In the supply side efforts that focus on improving quality of services rendered to the people, infrastructural development and having adequate skilled personnel manned at both the primary healthcare facility and tertiary hospital levels could hasten the attainment of UHC whereas on the demand side efforts that capitalize on providing feedback to the health service providers through established social accountability framework like the community score cards and ensuring that health services are people centered are necessary for UHC attainment.
The sad reality however is that sub-Saharan Africa today faces a grim scenario with respect to the health of its people. The continent’s poor health status is mirrored by crises in health financing, human resources, and poor infrastructure. ‘With only 2 percent of the global health workforce and only 1 percent of the world’s health expenditures, sub-Saharan African countries are ill-equipped to adequately address their health problems. Low per capita income, limited capacity for domestic revenue mobilization, and pervasive health systems bottlenecks complicate governments’ ability to respond effectively to the health challenges in their countries. Even with substantial external assistance, large gaps remain between available and needed resources.’
It is however clear that for health financing interventions to be scalable, sustainable and resilient for future generations, infrastructure needs to be cost recovering, value driven and services delivered in partnership with the private sector and catalytic investment. The private sector should not only be considered a funder alone but also a co-implementer of health solutions.
SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOALS
In September 2015, the United Nations introduced the new global development agenda for 2015 through 2030 and adopted a set of seventeen SDGs, with 169 specific targets, encompassing the social, economic and environmental dimensions of development.
Prominent among the goals are eradication of poverty and hunger, access to affordable and quality healthcare and education, dealing with climate and environmental degradation, and a range of other goals across building sustainable infrastructure and making cities more sustainable. The SDGs support peace and justice and promote economic growth that is inclusive, equitable and sustainable. These aspirations for human dignity are fully in line with the principles and objectives of development from an Islamic perspective (Maqasid Al-Sharia).
The Sustainable Development Goal Number 3, which specifically focuses on access to quality healthcare and well-being, presents ambitious plans for universal health coverage. These goals can only be achieved by developing healthcare infrastructure on a sustainable basis – preferably in cooperation with private service-providers.
PARTNERSHIPS AND THE ROLE OF ISLAMIC FINANCE
It is recognised that for the SDGs to be achieved by 2030 there has to be a high degree of co-operation and partnership across all stakeholder groups. SDG 17 focuses specifically on this issue, stating that: “… multi-stakeholder partnerships [are] important vehicles for mobilizing and sharing knowledge, expertise, technologies and financial resources to support the achievement of the sustainable development goals in all countries, particularly developing countries. Goal 17 … seeks to encourage and promote effective public, public-private and civil society partnerships, building on the experience and resourcing strategies of partnerships.”
Given its emphasis on risk-sharing, linkages to real economic activities, partnership-based and equity-focused approaches, widened geographic reach and the rapid expansion of its global assets in Muslim and non-Muslim countries, Islamic finance possesses the unique potential to serve as a potent tool for mobilizing as yet untapped sources of liquidity to support strategies to achieving the Sustainable Development Goal 3 (SDG 3) in Africa.
The Sustainable Development Goals present ambitious plans for universal health coverage, the attainment of which requires considerable financial investment and, thus, the high need for strong health financing systems. The current level of healthcare financing in Africa is not sufficient to meet the scale and ambition of the SDGs and the African governments continue to face fundamental health financing challenges in the area.
As an organization which is committed to fostering the Islamic paradigm of economic development and transforming healthcare infrastructure in Africa, the Africa Islamic Economic Foundation (AFRIEF) appears on the stage to play an active role in mobilizing Islamic Finance and human resources to support the strategic objectives and priorities of African countries to achieve UHC and the SDGs.