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Assessing Africa’s response to Technology advancements towards improved Healthcare

The global health care industry appears to have been relatively slow in adopting new technologies when compared to other industries. Perhaps due to strict regulations and the sensitive nature of medical information, the industry has proceeded with more caution than others. That is not to undermine the significant strides made in the field, which has redefined the way in which physicians practice medicine and patients receive treatment.

Recently, the world observed an upward spike in the trajectory of hospitals that have implemented electronic health record (EHR) systems. According to the PwC Health Research Institute, only 9 percent of these facilities used EHRs 10 years ago, as compared with approximately 90 percent today. A wide range of other digital technologies have led to improvements in the health care sector including increased connectivity among physicians; smartphone-based devices offering readings, aid in the delivery of care; computers provide input on medical decisions; greater access to DNA sequencing; remote health exams; pharmaceutical firms have more access to data to improve their products; more online and mobile educational opportunities; reduced risk and recovery time; advancements in robotics and nanotechnology amongst others.

However, a critical question is this: How is Africa responding to Technological advancements to deliver more efficient and effective healthcare to its citizens?

Today, the picture of Africa’s Healthcare as painted by World health statistics appears gloomy.  Statistically, eight (8) out of ten (10) countries with the poorest healthcare in the world are from Africa with Sierra Leone ranking 3rd and Nigeria, 5th. Limited healthcare for a large number of the population, lack of financial resources for patients and the challenge of distribution to rural areas have been instrumental to these poor rankings, dovetailing into very minimal or in some areas, the absolute absence of development of healthcare within the continent.

While there have been some level of impacts on Africa’s key health indicators over the last decade, much remains to be done within the dynamic realities of the pandemic brought on recently by COVID-19, shining more light on the gaps in Africa’s healthcare industry. Now that all critical stakeholders in the public and private sectors are putting up a common front to tackle healthcare challenges, the opportunities for viable policies and regulations to spur impact investments in healthcare could never have been more ripe, especially for businesses that consider technology-fueled innovation as the future of the healthcare industry.

In recent times, health-focused startups have been able to identify issues and come up with solutions not only having positive health and social impact but also positioned to take advantage of the business opportunities that abound throughout the industry from research and development to equipment and drugs manufacturing to service delivery.

Consider the examples that abound in some of these African Countries: Rwanda/US-based startup – Zipline, facilitating blood deliveries via drones making waves globally; in Ghana, Zipline has been deployed in the hope that faster drop-offs will improve its health outcomes including considerably reducing its maternal and infant mortality rates.  Nigeria’s BeaconHealth aims to provide high-quality and affordable primary healthcare facilities for clinically under-served communities across the country while HeliumHealth’s digitized medical records are being used by thousands of medical professionals in West Africa to treat more than 150,000 patients on a monthly basis.

Ghana’s Mpharma uses data and cost management systems to connect Africans to accessible and affordable high-quality medication, while Doctoora in the same Ghana offers virtual private practice solutions to health professionals geared to help doctors follow-up patients in order to increase value of treatments while 54Gene is building the world’s largest pan-African biobank.

The list of health-focused businesses is on the increase and these businesses depend on the ever advancing technology to deliver better healthcare to Africans at large. And they certainly have results in terms of impact on lives as well as impact on investment – Zipline is currently valued at over USD1.2b from the last public filing in 2019 and was named by CNBC as one of fifty disruptors.

In essence, it is clear that the many challenges bedeviling Africa’s healthcare delivery can be addressed by prioritizing Investments in Technology-driven health initiatives, as Africa uses the opportunity provided by the pandemic to redefine its strategies and plan a new approach. For starters, a rental or franchise model to facilitate access to medical equipment, a start-up that provides highly advanced, smaller and more inexpensive machines available for rental by doctors and health centres to take care of their patients at a rental price via an app could be good areas of health impact to consider. Health service providers can access the app, check for the equipment, pick a date and pay for it. This model has been deployed successfully for all needs from accommodation (Airbnb) to transportation (Uber).  Why can this not be applied to the healthcare industry?

Accessing a wider circle of support using the power of the internet cannot be overemphasised and the finance sector is a leader in this thought line.  For instance, in the microfinance sector, Kiva is a platform that many people around the world use to access loans for start-ups. This can inspire more potential beneficiaries to access loans that would cater for immediate healthcare procedures, opening up new ways of health funding.

There are opportunities in challenges.  It starts from seeing one’s cup half full and looking at things from a more positive perspective. In the healthcare space, Technology is a foundation on which many viable solutions can be built and deployed to make Africa’s healthcare system efficient, effective, accessible and dependable.

The lingering question is: What are we doing about it?

Excerpts from 2017 article by Keith Krach and future.africa.com

 

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