Reflections From Behind The Lens: What's Revolutionizing Health Care in Africa
It is a hot summers day in Cape Town with a light berg wind occasionally straightening the flags that sway at half-mast. The news of Nelson Mandela’s passing is still fresh, and this weight is felt by everyone from people vacationing to beggars, from the critics of Africa to the optimists of what lies ahead. In the back of everyone’s mind is the question, what’s going to happen now?
As one drives into the V&A Waterfront the Aquarium and the elaborate seven star, One and Only Hotel rapidly draw ones attention. Few notice the beige walls of the UCT Graduate School of Business hidden above a parking lot across the road. But this is a place for action, not looks. Here, in a small conference room five people have flown in from all corners of Africa to discuss rats, sanitary pads, soccer balls, mobile clinics and networks. It is a strange collection of artifacts, but the ideas behind them are revolutionizing health care in Africa. Collectively they represent a movement that is developing practical, low-cost, locally-based initiatives that are raising the quality of life for everyday Africans. These were the winners of the GOOD Pioneers of Health Challenge.
There is a humbleness that comes with working in humanitarian issues, and a sense of confidence that comes with seeing a product or action improve a person’s life. The casual but focused postures amongst the five sitting in the center of the room resonate with this. Flashdisks are passed to the front desk to upload their presentations. It's clear an extraordinary social experiment is about to commence. What will some of the brightest minds in health care have to say to each other?
In the hours that follow no distraction alludes from the front of the room. Mental cranks churn as each presenter reveals their innovation, and the audience quizzes how it can be improved on or adapted to their cause. There is a strong pull towards women’s empowerment as we hear Boitumelo Rakosa explain how she uses soccer as a tool to educate girls about HIV, and sexual and reproductive rights. Megan Mukuria has tapped into the basic need for affordable sanitary pads, and has structured a business plan to distribute low cost pads in the interest of keeping girls in school, and using the monthly purchase of pads as a means to distribute critical health care information through comic books that come free with the pads.
Elaborating on the ever-present burden of HIV, Forgie Wilson notes the elaborate networks commercial operations in Africa hold and has utilized this infrastructure to access rural areas and offer health care services particularly in HIV, TB, malaria, and maternal health. Pushing social entrepreneurship in health care, Michael Iyanro has developed a model of mobile clinics to distribute around West Africa and provide maternal health care through a self-sustaining and fully scalable solution. Smell a rat in your midst? Well Emilio Valverde will make you hope you do. He’s taught them how to sniff out landmines and TB. Now a rat can detect 40 cases of TB in only seven minutes. It would normally take a lab technician a full day to complete this workload. A selection of South African innovators were also asked to present on their work of which I was fortunate to have an opportunity to discuss my approach to harnessing visual media for advocacy and social mobilization, and how I intend to use this for my current project on the masculinity crisis in South Africa. The excitement in the room boiled over and it was time to explore a little. These are doers after all and not just talkers.