Mission to the Netherlands explores opportunities for Nigeria’s health sector

The Consulate of the Kingdom of Netherlands, in collaboration with PharmAccess Foundation, the implementing partner for the Government of the Netherlands’ health-related activities, is exploring means to deepen the investment relationships with Nigeria’s health sector.

A delegation including private sector healthcare providers, financial investors, and public sector officials embarked on a three-day fact-finding mission to the Netherlands to this effect.

The Government of the Netherlands is seeking to support the Government of Nigeria in strengthening its healthcare systems, in line with its “Trade and Aid” policies.

This is the first health mission organised by the consulate and it brought together leaders to meet and interact with Dutch health entrepreneurs, with a view to fostering investments in the Nigerian health sector and transferring capacity, expertise, and best practices.

Functional healthcare systems cannot operate in isolation and to deliver the maximum benefit, they need to work effectively as part of a wider ecosystem

The fact-finding mission kicked off with welcome remarks from Marc Hasselaar, the Director of International Entrepreneurship at the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as he provided insights into the drafting of a new global health strategy.

As world economies become more globalised, individual countries are proposing new guidelines to strengthen national and global health security.

The Government of the Netherlands, as part of its global development goals, has established a policy directive to structure the support it provides to the healthcare sector, globally to ensure that its health efforts are more strategic.

The recently published Dutch Global Health Strategy 2023-2030: “Working together for health worldwide” aims to contribute in a coordinated and targeted way to improve public health worldwide.

Leonie Van der Stijl, deputy consul general of the Netherlands in Lagos, who joined the fact-finding mission, speaking on the outlook said healthcare challenges have become increasingly global, multidimensional, and complex.

“The Dutch Global Health Strategy focuses on strengthening global health architecture and systems, especially for primary care and sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights. As Africa’s biggest economy, the state of affairs in Nigeria often reflects issues and opportunities that exist across the continent. That is why this mission is so important,” Stijl said.

PharmAccess Nigeria shared findings from the Nigeria Health Sector Market Study. The objectives of the study include providing deeper insights into the opportunities in Nigeria’s health sector and to position Dutch firms as Nigeria’s innovative partners for Life-Science-Health (LSH) opportunities.

Commenting on the report, Loretta Aniagolu, managing partner and CEO of FIT Consult Limited stated that “the study provided by PharmAccess Foundation was very useful in validating our own studies, particularly the breakdown of the expenditure of each state on overseas and private healthcare treatment”.

The report is scheduled to be disseminated in December 2022 and it will provide deeper insights into the market entry strategies for Dutch companies looking to leverage investment opportunities in Nigeria’s health sector.

The delegation went on site visits to Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs). Delft Imaging Systems, established in 1925 has a long history of developing innovative imaging solutions that improve the quality of people’s lives. Guido Geerts, the chief executive officer of Delft Imaging brought the delegates up to speed on some of the innovative solutions they had developed using digital x-rays and CAD4TB to improve TB screening, especially in hard-to-reach areas.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), around 245,000 Nigerians die from tuberculosis (TB) and about 590,000 new cases occur every year.

At the Philips Innovation Centre in Eindhoven, the latest consumer healthcare products were showcased and the Nigerian delegation took part in live demonstrations of some of the medical equipment. Philips has been developing innovative healthcare solutions across the continuum of care, from health living, prevention, diagnosis, treatment and homecare.

“We saw how easy it is to deploy technologies that will guarantee our nation’s health in future. This is not limited to equipment, we also have innovative software and financing solutions that address our current needs in Nigeria” said Edward Mwingi, Philips indirect channel manager, West Africa.

Functional healthcare systems cannot operate in isolation and to deliver the maximum benefit, they need to work effectively as part of a wider ecosystem that includes a well-trained workforce, and funding to pay for health services, diagnostics, and therapeutics.

During the visit to Invest International, which has a shareholding that includes the Dutch Ministry of Finance (51 percent) and FMO (49 percent), a triple-A bank, the delegation learned how the organisation supports making investments feasible for Dutch solutions that address global challenges.

According to Njide Ndile, PharmAccess Nigeria “there are opportunities to leverage investments through funders such as Invest international who also support and fund governments for systems building, in addition to making access available to the private sector”.

TNO Innovation for life, the Dutch hybrid innovation institute, which is the second largest in Europe, develops products and services in various fields, including nutrition, construction material, renewable energy, health, and digitization.

The delegation was welcomed by Yvette Fleming, senior business developer for Child Health and Innovation for Development, and her team, and they explored how the organisation was finding smart solutions to complex issues.

The team shared an example of how they were finding solutions to the issue of nutrition and creating employment opportunities, with flying foods: insects for food.

They have been supporting organisations in Uganda, Kenya, and Nigeria through farming crickets. They can be eaten as a snack, ground into powder, and added to porridge, bread, and cookies.

Cool bricks an efficient construction material that is environmentally friendly is used to build houses. The Nigerian construction material market would be a viable destination for cool bricks, as the market for environmentally-friendly building materials is still in its infancy.

Innovations in bioengineering were presented at TU Delft, the oldest and largest Dutch public technical university in the Netherlands, and viable opportunities were discussed for collaboration in relevant research and development with institutions in Nigeria.

The university has existing partnerships with the University of Lagos and the University of Ibadan. Researchers at the university presented diagnostic innovations that can address neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) in low-resource settings. Nigeria contributes to 50 percent of the African burden of NTDs.

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This was the first-ever fact-finding mission with delegates from Nigeria exploring healthcare innovations in the Netherlands, and delegates agreed that the trip was very valuable in expanding their knowledge about advances in health technology and treatment.

However, there was agreement that future fact-finding missions should include visits to pharmaceutical companies. The need for public-private partnership solutions, with counterpart funding, are some of the financing solutions that need to be explored according to Akin Abayomi, the Lagos State Commissioner for Health, Professor.

He made it clear that in Lagos, they were pushing to ensure they “work smart”, leveraging multiple sources of funding to deliver one standard of healthcare that is benchmarked against international standards.

Locally, private investors in Nigeria’s healthcare industry are increasingly looking for high and advanced medical technology to attract big-ticket patients, who have a penchant for shopping specialized care abroad.

They combine the latest medical equipment with the expertise of highly skilled health consultants to upgrade the quality of care available, particularly in areas such as reproductive care.

The potential of operating in the largest African market is something analysts consider charming but warn that government must do more to kick out difficulties posed by the multiple foreign exchange rates and the declining purchasing value of Nigerians.

There are viable opportunities in the manufacturing of medical supplies in Nigeria’s healthcare sector that investors can tap into as the need to overhaul the structure of the health system grows across Africa.

Experts see Nigeria’s reliance on imports for critical medical supplies as a threat to national health security which the COVID-19 pandemic further exposed when countries with fully-fledged capacity for production halted exports.

But that gap could be well harnessed to grow the sector to new heights if more investments flow into building manufacturing plants for different medical consumables and even devices that are currently being imported.

It is believed that the government can make the sector more attractive and viable by giving it the kind of backing that the banking sector gets; such that the Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) is established to handle recklessness and prevent banks from collapsing.

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