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Advancing healthcare through digital technology

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Jasper Westerlink


Jasper Westerlink is the Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Philips Africa. Westerlink who served as the Managing Director, Philips’ Personal Health, Indonesia, joined the African Organisation in 2016, with the ambition of accelerating development in Philips’ Health Technology in Africa. In this interview with ADAKU ONYENUCHEYA, the CEO talks about the state of healthcare in Nigeria and how digital technology can be leverage on to drive solutions in the healthcare market.

Reports on the state of Nigeria’s healthcare system have continued to be negative, with several challenges and less hope of achieving positive outcome, what do you think is wrong?
Just like many African countries, Nigeria is at a phase where, in the building of the healthcare system, it still has to go quite a very long way. If you look at where we are today, it is estimated that to be at par with other developing countries, Nigeria would need around 450, 000 additional hospital beds. Actually, there are only one in eight of the healthcare professionals – doctors, which are currently available. So I think it is key to start building that, which the government is already doing, and by doing so, it increases the quality, because many of the procedures done oversees can also be done here and I hope Nigeria can capture that. There is always room for very specialized treatment, and you cannot expect every country, region and Africa to have that. But in general, a country of this size of Nigeria with the potentials should be able to have a very solid, strong sufficient healthcare system.

Several reports shows that Nigeria still loses under-five children and women of child-bearing age to death, making the country the second largest contributor to maternal and child mortality. What is Philips bringing in this regard?
Through out Africa, maternal and childcare is a challenge and as Philips, we have actually developed a programme, community life centres, which are basically aimed on access and quality. Access in the sense that, we want to allow and offer access to people throughout the country, while quality is to make sure that the protocols and outcomes are pretty much standardised in the same. And why this is so important is that, what you currently see is that, mothers’ in this case will wait till they have real complications to seek medical help because it is not always close by, it’s too expensive, too far away, you need to make a trip and when you wait that long – normally, the chances to have a successful treatment have reduced quite a bit, so in our community life centres, we try to ensure that there is access throughout the country so that pre-natal scans, for instance, ultrasounds can be done timely to really identify who is at risk, and then to make sure that there is good referral.

The process of early detection, even the need for referrals, instead of waiting till there are complications and then almost too late seeking help is key, so what we are doing is setting up clinics as part of our community-life centres, which is self-sufficient, so you have fixed structures, but you also have container based structures and we have even developed bag packs for health workers just to go out into the communities and to do – in this case related to pregnancies, a number of scans that greatly reduce mother and child mortality. We started this in Kenya and other African countries; this is a programme where we see a direct impact on mother and child mortality.

We believe that every mother and child deserves the best care possible – before, during, and after a newborn enters the world. We are also committed to delivering clinically proven Developmental Care solutions and educational services, through every stage and each transition. We help you establish an evidence‐based framework of care designed to support and nurture mother and baby in the best way possible. Through a wide range of products including maternal and fetal monitoring during pregnancy, neonatal positioning, calming and soothing solutions for the NICU, and feeding and monitoring for the transition home, we help to enrich the lives of infants from the start.

Non-communicable diseases are the leading cause of deaths worldwide and are on the rise. Could technological innovations be used to address the menace?
In general, we see a rise of lifestyle related diseases and more registered incidences like cancers – breast, prostrate and others. What is very important is education and prevention, so if you look at Nigeria, where half the population is below 30 years – we have a huge population who is below 40 year and it is important to realise that with education today on how to eat and live healthy and also make smart choices, you can reduce the risk factors. And the reason why this is important is that, if you think about the huge population, and if half of the people, which is below 30 years, if they don’t get the right education on how to prevent risk factors, you can imagine that in 10-20 years from now, the burden will be tremendous. If you talk about cancer, we know that early detection, right diagnosis and right follow up plan are key. And what we can share is that, we have actually done a lot on oncology, where identification, right diagnosis, are being supported by technology to get better and right diagnosis, and of course the follow up.

But the most important part is early detection and imaging solutions, which works tremendously with that. And if you think about the challenges in more developing countries, tele-health, remote-health is becoming more available, so instead of expecting that in every village or area you have medical professional, which is not possible, because there are not so many, you can use clinics to actually do the screening, so you can go to a clinic and image is taken, this is looked at clearly with support of artificial intelligence, which also helps human judgment. In this case, when radiology sits here, he can look at images from the entire Nigeria, or a region, to actually make sure that at an early stage you capture a patient, if needed, because with early detection you increase significantly the survival rate. And what is more importantly as well, is if you have artificial intelligence, a radiologist can be supported in the decision making, so it increases efficiency so he can see more patients or images in an hour, compared to that, he has to review all the pictures and again if resources are scarce, which they are in Africa and globally, this can make a tremendous impact.

Infrastructure and cost of treatment are major challenges in Nigeria’s healthcare system, how would Philips Africa bridge the gap?
The focus would have been on equipment and its sales, meaning selling ultrasounds, which is a fantastic product needed in hospitals and clinics. Where we are today, where the industry is today, I think Philips is leading that for some extent, we rather have discussions into action partnership with governments, where we actually identify what we want to achieve, so it is much more about clinical outcomes, and we want to have these partnerships, because in reality, it’s not only about equipment, there need to be infrastructure, like construction of buildings, road, power, water and others necessary, so what we have seen is that what we call solutions, where we co-create together with relevant stakeholders. You actually look at what you want to achieve, but the main building blocks are what you want to achieve to reach that, and then how to execute and make it tangible like in Kenya.

The Kenyan government did not have ICUs, in terms of care units. They realised that running an ICU requires a lot of knowledge and it is upfront and huge investment, so they have to gather in this partnership. We have created what we call a immense triple service where Philips offers, operates and runs ICUs, so we make sure that the ICUs are there – electricity, the building and key equipment is there for a fixed fee, so it means that we help the government to avoid a huge upfront payment because they know what they are going to pay every month. We even have clause in there, that if costs are lower in reality, we pay back a little bit to them, so it is a key partnership, that you look, not only at a scanner, and MRI or in this case patient monitoring, but really help fix the total infrastructure, both building, access, and also the financial aspect to make it happen

Philips Africa in collaboration with Forbes recently held a roundtable discussion with public and private stakeholders in the health sector on the state of Nigeria’s health care system. What solutions are required to improve the system?
We facilitated and engaged in the discussion about state of health in Nigeria. What we have done is that, we have asked 500 Nigerians a number of questions to get a little bit about an idea on how the reality and perception or the feedback matches and what I found, although, there are couple of things quite interesting, but what I found very encouraging is that, when asked on how to spend money, I think 48-49 percent of Nigerians do want to focus on being preventative, on getting more information; how to manage a in the health sector and monitor their health themselves, which to me indicates that there is a need to which we should learn about what we can do to make healthy choices, to learn more about how we can reduce risk, so it is a discussion aimed at understanding where we are today and how the future of healthcare in Nigeria could look like, and what the role of technology could play there.

With emphasis placed on using technology to address the challenges facing the healthcare system in Africa, what new innovations is Philips bringing to Nigeria?
Looking at the state of healthcare in Nigeria today, there is still a long way to go, you have to think of how to create something sustainable in the communities, carried by local doctors and nurses, and then you can only have a working partnership. If you put the private and government companies together you would make positive impact and a better out come

We continue to focus on driving groundbreaking connected innovations across the health continuum. Digital technologies are the enabler of such transformations in healthcare systems and Philips is determined to drive that transformation. By integrating advanced diagnostic imaging technologies with specialized informatics, Philips is helping its customers to enhance the diagnostic process, facilitate seamless collaboration and improve workflow efficiencies – all for the enhancement of patient care

We are committed to supporting the sustainable development of Nigeria with advanced infrastructure technologies, services and solutions, which are aligned to deliver on Nigeria’s infrastructure needs as well as to bolster economic development and improve the quality of life in the region

How would Philip improve access of ordinary Nigerians to these healthcare innovations and the cost to access that care?
It’s about managing equipment services that we actually doing in Africa, because we have seen that same need. If you look at technology, Philips has products; we have created something, which can be put into any smart phone to scan a pregnant woman. You don’t need a big machine to do an ultrasound, you can put into a smart phone and a mid-wife and healthcare professional can use. Because in Nigeria, there is shortage of healthcare workers, this innovation can be used by health professional and we can also train people who are not of healthcare background because they can also do good scans, especially when they go into rural areas. If you want think about access, you need to think about technology and how you can embed it in the society.

Death rates in pregnancies are high, which economically post a burden on the society, so if these pregnant women are captured upfront in the process and referred closer to where she lives, using technology, you not only reduce stress of going to hospital and with that technology, you reduce death and its impact on the society. By preventing or capturing something early, we actually are already reducing cost. We all know that financing is a very important part, but the challenge here will be to think about what else so we see how we can capture things early as possible to avoid a large burden.


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Jasper Westerlink
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