Q&A: Philips Africa CEO discusses healthcare trends (Part 2)

JJ van Dongen

JJ van Dongen

In the second of our two-part interview with JJ van Dongen, Philips CEO for Africa, he speaks about emerging trends in the continent’s healthcare industry. Below are edited excerpts.

Describe the trends you are seeing in Africa’s healthcare industry.

We see people wanting to control their lives. We see ministries of health also wanting to have very effective solutions, so they are focused on reducing the cost of acquisition and maintenance of equipment. We also see ministries of health don’t want to buy one or two pieces of equipment, instead undertaking large-scale projects to revitalise their healthcare systems.

For example, in Kenya we are supplying 11 intensive care units to be deployed across the country. This is one of the projects where we are providing total turnkey solutions, including service, through a funding mechanism spread over a period of time.

Although there is rapid urbanisation, hundreds of millions of people in Africa still live in rural areas, and that means we need to continue to focus strongly on primary healthcare in rural areas where the highest mortality rates exist.

We also see the private health sector growing significantly, and as a company we have a very strong presence in the private sector in many countries in Africa. You see physicians running their own hospitals and radiologists setting up their own radiology departments. This is having an impact on the demand for our equipment, such as radiology and cardiology diagnostic equipment, where demand is increasing significantly.

Is the continent generally making progress in the area of healthcare?

I think the healthcare systems are generally improving. However, today in Africa we have a double disease burden – communicable diseases, such as HIV, as well as a rise in non-communicable diseases such as strokes and cardiac issues caused by things like obesity.

It is a major concern because ministries of health have to address primary diseases but also these expensive diseases, such as cancer, which require higher level of equipment and different training of their physicians. Some countries are trying to avoid the root causes of these non-communicable diseases. We see in South Africa, for instance, a strong focus on reducing smoking and alcohol consumption, and recently attacks on excessive sugar consumption.

Don’t you think emerging consumers that are consuming more fast food and processed snacks undermine such efforts?

It is true we have consumers who are becoming wealthier and wanting to explore all these different types of experiences. However, they are also becoming aware that these things have an impact on their health. They are cautious. At Philips we focus on how to improve people’s lives, and that also involves how people eat. For example, we have an airfryer that allows you to cook without oil. We see an uptake by the middle class, particularly in our segment of healthy products. Generally, we see people wanting to improve their lives and have a better lifestyle.

Read Part 1 of the interview.