The BRIC countries ( Brazil , Russia , India , and China ) have long been the focus of emerging-market investors. But it is in Africa , a region with the world's second-fastest growth, where the next big business opportunities lie.Foreign investors report that their return on investment in Africa is higher than in any other emerging region. By 2040, the continent's working-age population will total an estimated 1.1 billion people, providing businesses with a larger labour pool than even China or India.However, Africa also faces major challenges. One of the biggest concerns is inadequate health care. Preventable and treatable diseases plague the population. Life expectancy is 14 years below the global average. Every minute, an African child dies from malaria. DUAL BURDEN If left unaddressed, the dual burden of communicable and non-communicable diseases could jeopardise Africa's economic potential. To avoid this, three critical areas of health care must be addressed: Technology, infrastructure, and education.Africa has witnessed some remarkable technological leaps. A decade ago, telecoms infrastructure was almost non-existent. Today, one in six people owns a mobile phone. Africa has pioneered the use of mobile banking, with local players like M-Pesa and global corporations like Citi demonstrating how new technology can provide vital financial services to the unbanked population. Joining this mobile-phone revolution, Novartis is working with five African governments and private-sector partners to improve drug distribution and monitor the supply of anti-malaria medicines in rural areas using text messaging and electronic mapping. A second crucial aspect of improving Africa's health care is infrastructure. Good rail lines, roads, and ports allow products and services to be distributed widely at lower cost, and to benefit from economies of scale. Fortunately, several companies are rising to the challenge. Coca-Cola, for example, is contributing its supply-chain expertise to map out health facilities and implement stock-management software to support the distribution of bed nets, contraceptives, anti-Aids drugs, and vaccines to remote villages. TRACK DISEASE OUTBREAKSFinally, education is one of the most powerful tools for reducing poverty and generating sustainable, inclusive economic growth. But, given limited resources and few teachers, too many children are being left behind. Public-private partnerships are helping to change this.So Novartis has formed a partnership with the Earth Institute , the United Nations , and private-sector groups to train and deploy by 2015 a million community health workers in sub-Saharan Africa to deliver basic treatment and preventive care, and to track disease outbreaks. The idea is that local people will learn how to support their communities rather than rely on handouts, and thereby lift themselves out of poverty permanently.Africa is increasingly showing signs of its promise, but innovative solutions to improve its people's health are essential if the continent is to approach its potential. This will require more than philanthropy: It will demand new commercial models that solve health care issues, help the economy to grow, and benefit those who invest in Africa's future. Joseph Jimenez is CEO of Novartis , a Swiss multinational pharmaceutical company.
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