Africa is the second largest continent by population size, home to over 16% of the world’s population. For years, the continent has experienced healthcare infrastructure challenges, including too few doctors or specialists, with only 0.2 physicians for every 1 000 people, equivalent to 1/10th of the available doctors elsewhere in the world. This has a negative impact on people seeking healthcare. Without easy access to services and low availability of affordable health insurance, people end up waiting long periods of time, paying high prices from their own pockets or travelling to other countries, such as South Africa and the United Kingdom, for medical care.
But change is coming to healthcare on the continent, and it’s shaped by the young population of Africa. Leading the growth rate of the middle class, the young adult population, with an average age of 19.7 years, is ready to live healthier, is digitally connected and are expecting the best when it comes to caring for their health and wellbeing. This digitally savvy mindset of the new generation, coupled with the health insurance take-up of close to 2% across the continent, unlocks major opportunities to provide meaningful, differentiated health insurance for better health of the population. The biggest potential solution is changing the traditional role of health insurers – to not only address and protect people against the current health concerns in Africa, but to also promote the necessary intervention, care and preventive steps that are needed to address the change in and increase of diseases that are affecting people now.
The occurrence of infectious diseases has always been a concern. However, Africa is facing a double burden of disease with chronic diseases on the rise. Diabetes affects 5.8% of people between the ages of 20 and 79, high blood pressure occurs among 27% of people, which means the African region has the highest rate of hypertension in the world. Mental health interventions are also much needed with 100 million people living with clinical depression and the region ranking among the top 30 countries in the world for deaths by suicide in every 100 000 people.
Lifestyle choices are a major driver of this rise in chronic illnesses and early intervention is a high priority. Between 1997 and 2017, there was an 11% increase in the occurrence of lifestyle-related chronic illnesses among men, leading to high numbers of deaths from heart disease, stroke, diabetes and kidney and liver diseases. Currently, as much as 22.1% of adults are not physically active enough to ensure good health. This, combined with alcohol abuse, smoking and unhealthy dietary choices, is all linked to an increase in cardiovascular conditions, obesity, diabetes, certain cancers, mental health conditions, and complications of HIV and Aids.
With the significant rise in chronic illnesses, there is a need to take a different approach to healthcare. With resources already under pressure, the focus on disease screening and lifestyle interventions are even more important – early screening improves both the life span, and the number of years people live in good health. The importance of screening and implementing programmes to prevent the onset of disease, complications, and premature deaths has also been acknowledged by the World Health Organization.
The use of digital applications and devices in managing health has increased exponentially among people younger than 35 who are especially digital savvy – 96% use social media for news and 56% use wearable devices that measure activity levels and other important health metrics. While there are many social media and government-led interventions focused on screening and prevention, more is needed to make screening and early diagnosis more accessible.
Here, there is a new role for health insurers. With the ability to incorporate wearable devices and monitoring of preventive screening and health activities, it is possible to monetise health and reward people for good health choices.
This technology is embedded in Vitality, a behaviour-change programme based on clinical and behavioral science, which is linked to Vitality Health International – offering health insurance that rewards healthy living – to employer groups. Vitality provides access to screening, and rewards both the good management of health conditions and preventive actions to live healthier.
For most, the value of health insurance is only visible when people are older or sick. With health insurance aimed at sharing value with everyone, the rewards, quality, and immediate value are also visible to the young and healthy who are physically active, take up preventive screening and make healthy lifestyle choices. The benefits come in financial and other immediate rewards for employees, while engagement statistics from Vitality indicate that employers also benefit from improved productivity with approximately seven days additional working time and 46% lower sickness days for those who engage in the programme.
International Health Insurance (a product within the Vitality Health International product suite) is supported in collaboration with Vitality International Health Insurance Company Limited, registration number 134817C (Isle of Man), an authorised reinsurer and Discovery Health (Pty) Ltd, registration number 1997/013480/07 (South Africa), an authorised provider of financial and related
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