Why Africa holds the key to the future of personalised health
I founded Prenetics-owned DNAfit with an ambitious mission: to use genetic science and technology to help millions of people live longer, healthier and happier lives. As part of this journey, my passion brought me from South Africa to the UK, and now, as I look at the challenges and opportunities in global health and wellness, I believe Africa holds the key this industry needs to advance.
Since the completion of mapping the human genome in 2003, the field of genetics has progressed rapidly, with many millions of people having already taken a DNA test for health. Genetics not only provides valuable insights into how our bodies are made, but crucially it can also be a powerful preventative health tool. Increased genetic knowledge allows pharmaceutical companies to develop more effective drugs, individuals to make more informed lifestyle decisions and become aware of their risks, sensitivities and health needs, but it needs to be achieved through a fair and balanced approach to research.
What many people don’t realise however, is that there remains one huge missing link standing in the way of essential advancements in preventative healthcare; one which I do not believe is talked about enough.
That missing link is the current “racial bias” in the field of genetic research.
You may be surprised to learn that there is currently a large disparity in the amount of research performed on genetic samples of white European ethnicity versus those of African ethnicity. This lack of African genetic data is a serious oversight, posing potential detriment to global health advancements, and particularly to Africa itself and of course the African diaspora.
Let me highlight one example — diabetes medications and SSRI’s (for depression) only work on about 40% of the population — this is due to the research base being heavily skewed to white Europeans data. If you’re of African descent, these common interventions could very well be much less effective for you — this isn’t right.
Genetic research allows pharmaceutical companies to develop more effective drugs, yet the data is only really there for those of European descent — making them less effective on African people. In order to reach the goal of ‘one pill per person’ that preventative health is striving towards, there urgently needs to be more diversity in genetic research.
The challenge in taking this research forward is how to do it responsibly, making sure that data is federated, protected and used in a business model that allows for the host country to benefit from any findings.
This may well be a challenge, but it presents a huge opportunity too. As Africa’s economies — and consumer markets — grow rapidly in the coming years, health and wellness companies cannot afford to ignore the region. With some of the fastest growing economies on the planet, Africa’s health and tech sectors are full of opportunities waiting to be seized by innovative businesses and entrepreneurs.
The UK-Africa Investment Summit this month offers a chance for forward thinking companies and start-ups to consider how they can capitalise on these exciting opportunities and build new businesses partnerships — in healthcare, technology and beyond. Now is the time to #InvestInAfrica.
To learn more about DNAfit and our mission, check out our website: https://www.dnafit.com/about/