Behind the $24 million pledge for health innovations in Nigeria

You may have heard that an Abuja session of the World Economic Forum netted a $24.2 million USD commitment from Nigerian business leaders—including Aliko Dangote, Africa’s wealthiest man—to improve healthcare in Nigeria. The commitments, made through the Private Sector Healthcare Alliance of Nigeria, will focus on maternal and child mortality reductions for the Saving One Million Lives initiative.


Helping shape the Alliance is Muyi Aina. Dr. Aina and his team at Solina Health represent the Center for Health Market Innovations (CHMI) in Nigeria, identifying promising health organizations and connecting them with partners who can help increase their impact. I sat down with Dr. Aina, a McKinsey alum with a doctorate in epidemiology, during a recent visit to Results for Development  (which manages CHMI) to learn more about the Alliance and its highly anticipated next steps.

Unlocking the potential of Nigeria’s private sector

Nigeria is Africa’s largest economy, yet its success isn’t shared equally. Seventy percent of Nigerians still live below the poverty line. Extending quality health care to the country’s large and diverse population is an enormous challenge. There are promising health organizations percolating in the marketplace—see a map of them here—but many are still small in scale.

In the past five years, government leaders have been building public-private partnerships for roads, agriculture, and power. Now some are pushing for alliances in healthcare, too. Nigeria was the second non-OECD country to join the HANSHEP consortium, a vote to harness the power of the private sector to work toward universal health coverage.

“As part of the Saving One Million Lives initiative, many in government were determined to look at creative solutions for improving healthcare,” said Dr. Aina. Then health minister Dr. Muhammad Ali Pate conceived of a platform for dialogue with business leaders, and a way to channel large investments of time, resources, technical capabilities, and energy to improve Nigeria’s health system.

“The alliance was focused on unlocking what we see as the major potential of the private sector in Nigeria,” said Dr. Aina.

Dr. Muntaqa Umar-Sadiq, chief executive officer of the new alliance, reportedly “bemoaned the low application of innovation and technology in healthcare delivery as the biggest missed opportunity in transforming the nation’s healthcare delivery.”

“When it comes to innovation, people kept asking how they can actually scale,” said Dr. Aina, “there is a lot of skepticism about pilots.”


Lessons from Manila about setting up an innovation marketplace

Around this time, Dr. Aina attended a meeting of CHMI’s regional partners in Bangalore. Squinting in the sun outside their hotel, Dr. Aina talked with Oscar Picazo and Valerie Ulep of the Philippine Institute for Development Studies about their experience fostering dialogue between the government, private healthcare leaders, and health innovators.

Picazo and Ulep’s team developed the Philippine Health Market Innovation awards, a program that highlighted more than 40 promising delivery, financing, and technology solutions. Judges representing business, academia, and government debated the merits of the various health programs, ultimately awarding initiatives they felt were pro-poor, sustainable, innovative, and had demonstrated real impact. Dr. Aina concluded something like this could work in Nigeria, too.



Establishing a permanent platform for public-private coordination in Nigeria

Meanwhile, the private sector alliance had gotten a name: It would be the Private Sector Health Alliance of Nigeria (PHN), led by business leaders like Aliko Dangote, Jim Ovia, and others.

Last May’s World Economic Forum found Dr. Aina facilitating a discussion hosted by PHN where the Alliance’s leaders ended the session by pledging $24.2 million to shore up healthcare in Nigeria. Leaders are targeting a reduction in child and maternal mortality of 400,000 in two years.

“The National Primary Health Care Development Agency provided input to PHN’s priorities and committed to helping bring innovations to scale once they reached a level of sustainability through the new Alliance,” said Dr. Aina.

He explained that part of the funding would be used to drive PHN’s innovations agenda forward in Nigeria by creating a robust Nigerian Health Innovation Marketplace, which comprises the Health Innovation Challenge competition, and a virtual hub. In addition, PHN will commit some of its funds to specific Saving One Million Lives pillars including: 

  • Provision of health commodities, such as malaria rapid diagnostic test kits and nutritional foods where they are most needed, and
  • Impact investments to support businesses that save lives but would otherwise struggle to find financing.

With the lessons from the Philippines fresh in their minds, Dr. Aina and his colleagues supported the PHN as it conceived the National Innovation Health Marketplace. Solina developed an implementation strategy, supported the launch of the marketplace. The team is now helping to plan workshops, constitute a review panel, and develop the scoring guide for the competitors.

An incubator program for Nigerian health innovators

Nigeria’s Health Innovation Challenge will be similar to competitions hosted by CHMI’s partners in the Philippines and East Africa. The Challenge is open to promising health products and programs financing, supporting, and delivering healthcare.

A panel of experts, including government representatives, will evaluate programs. The most promising ones will present to a panel of judges who will then select the winners. Thanks to the Alliance’s fundraising efforts, the monetary prize for winners will be significant.

Yet Dr. Aina heard from CHMI’s partners in Philippines and East Africa that more than a one-time award is needed to sustain growth and, equally important, learning over time. Based on this intelligence, the Nigeria team is developing a multi-faceted support program.

“Winners will be enrolled in an incubation program to receive seed funding, management training, business support and connections to funders, policy makers, buyers, and other stakeholders relevant to their enterprise,” said Dr. Aina. The IDEA Hub, of the Ministry of Communication Technology, has partnered with the Alliance on this.

With rapid momentum, leadership, and useful examples about diffusing and scaling innovation from around the world, Nigeria is well positioned to expedite progress toward the Saving One Million Lives initiative.