About five years ago, an evocative phrase started popping up in news coverage, book titles, NGO reports and countless international symposia about the African continent: “Africa Rising.”
In the years since, these words have been everywhere. The phrase has captured our cultural imagination because it carries a compelling story of a continent on the brink of transformation.
The old Africa that existed in many people’s minds—characterized by stagnant growth, widespread poverty and a heavy disease burden—is becoming a place of boundless potential. Rising investment from across the public and private sector is expanding economic opportunity.
And earlier this month, in South Africa, I had the opportunity to see this with my own eyes—to witness the crucial role that companies like Johnson & Johnson, along with our valued partners, are playing to help drive and sustain positive trends. So on this Giving Tuesday, I want to celebrate the many people who have given of themselves to help Africa truly rise.
An On-the-Ground Glimpse at a Nation's Future
For nearly 90 years, South Africa has been a hub for Johnson & Johnson’s work in 27 countries throughout sub-Saharan Africa. Today, this vibrant nation is at the heart of our Global Public Health Strategy, which brings together the latest innovations—and the brightest minds in every healthcare field—to touch one billion lives each day.
Over the course of my visit, I had the chance to speak with many of our talented professionals from across the continent. I was able to witness the work they do alongside our partners to realize Johnson & Johnson’s Credo values—and to care for the world, one person at a time.
In Cape Town and Johannesburg, I saw communities where needs are heartbreakingly acute and access to healthcare is scarce. I toured state-of-the-art facilities where skilled technicians apply the latest innovations to confront health crises; where breakthroughs empower local patients, providers and entire populations to make informed healthcare decisions; and where industry-leading researchers drive unprecedented progress against age-old diseases.
At every turn, I was reminded—in conversations with patients, Johnson & Johnson employees, local clinicians and government leaders—of just how far Africa has come, and how far it has yet to go. Most of all, I was inspired by the resilience of the country, the continent, and the remarkable people and organizations I encountered.
It’s clear that 'Africa Rising' is real and powerful—and only just beginning.
Stories of Impact—One Person at a Time
People like Phelisa—a woman of incredible strength and determination—who is pregnant and HIV-positive. Like so many young women across Africa, she is defying the social stigma to stand up, speak out and get the treatment she and her child need.
People like the passionate men and women of the Spring Foundation, who are rallying public and private sector partners—in cooperation with Johnson & Johnson—to address mental illness through innovative psychosocial treatments. By engaging patients in a range of activities, like gardening and repairing bicycles, they are achieving phenomenal results.
People like the hardworking owner-operators of mobile Unjani clinics—each made from retrofitted shipping containers—who, with support from Johnson & Johnson, are providing life-changing medical care to South Africans in under-served areas. With just over 30 mobile clinics throughout the country, Unjani has reached 110,000 patients to date, and they expect to help 240,000 each year by 2018.
And people like Nontokozo Zakwe, a participant in DREAMS—an innovative partnership that spans 10 sub-Saharan countries and helps to address not just the health impacts, but also the structural drivers that increase girls’ HIV risk. She told me that DREAMS inspires young women like her to take charge of their health and wellness.
“I will not be a statistic,” she said, “[because DREAMS] is a platform in which we refuse to die.”
There is no question that all of Africa, including South Africa, will face momentous challenges in the years to come: increasing access to world-class healthcare, expanding educational opportunities and sustaining growth that improves the lives of all people.
Confronting these challenges will be far from easy.
But after I met just a few of the people whose talent and determination will shape South Africa’s future, I returned to the United States more confident than ever. From hearing their stories, and seeing the incredible work they do every day, it’s clear that “Africa Rising” is real and powerful—and only just beginning.