COVID-19 proved to be a ‘mother of inventions’ for healthcare.
Across Africa, the pandemic awakened everyone to the continent’s sad state of healthcare infrastructure which, having been underfunded for a long time, was unprepared for COVID-19 with the majority of its countries, having at least one hospital per 1 million people, one doctor per 10,000, and one hospital bed for 10,000, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
However, there is a chance that this narrative can be changed, in the beyond the pandemic as the world moves to embrace e-health systems and more health tech start-ups getting recognition.
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines eHealth as the cost-effective and secure use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) for health and health-related fields.
ICT provides a range of technologies for gathering, storing, retrieving, processing, analyzing, transmitting, and receiving data and information.
These include radio, television, mobile phones, computer, and network hardware and software, as well as the services and applications associated with them, including videoconferencing and distance learning.
eHealth is an umbrella term that covers a variety of areas such as health informatics, digital health, telehealth, telemedicine, eLearning, and mobile health.
Africa is home to the fastest-growing mobile ecosystems, as over 70% of the continent has mobile coverage with 3G connections and 30% with 4G networks stand a larger chance to leverage the eHealth system even as we try to improve the health care systems
With further advancements of technology including the installation of high-speed broadband networks within and across the continent by Facebook and Google, leveraging on ehealth systems is important to help us fight poor access to healthcare, sanitation, nutrition and hygiene information that have contributed largely to us being referred to as ‘the dark Continent’.
This communication infrastructure, coupled with growing healthcare innovations including home testing and AI chatbots that enable self-diagnosis, AI-powered call centers, disease surveillance, contact tracing, and telemedicine applications that revolutionize healthcare delivery – beyond COVID-19 – are all within reach of every country on the continent.
With a rising middle class and improving broadband coverage, cities across the continent are ready for quality healthcare systems powered by digital innovations.
It is, therefore, the responsibility of both public and private players to seize this moment to reset the continent’s healthcare system.
Some starting points include encouraging market-driven innovations, by actively promoting digital innovations and agile policy-making for people-centered healthcare.
Many first world countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, and Korea, among others, are also moving in this direction.
Africa can also ride this tide to unlock healthcare 4.0 on the continent. However, what about the majority of rural Africans? From the data, we learn that network coverage is available, but people are not using it.
Therefore, market-creating interventions, including reducing the cost of connectivity, smartphone subsidy programs, rural education programs, and suitable applications will enable the design of healthcare delivery systems for all.
According to a report published this March by Quartz Africa, the Africa HealthTech market is booming, thanks to the increased opportunities presented by the Covid-19 pandemic. HealthTech investment reached $106.7 million USD in 2020, across 62 funding rounds, and represented 12% of all disclosed investment rounds.
Over the last 12 months, the number of HealthTech deals has reached just over $77 million USD over 56 funding rounds. Much of this is attributed to a single raise closed by LifeQ a South Africa-founded biometrics company now based in the United States of America.
However, healthcare distribution in Africa still remains to be a big challenge, this is because African e-commerce giants like Copia, and Jumia have shown a strategic interest in healthcare – all of whom now offer over-the-counter healthcare products directly on their e-commerce platforms.
Despite this, healthcare investment continues to increase, according Baobab Network and in 2021 there has been a total of $61.982 million USD raised by HealthTech companies in H1 2021 across a total of 15 deals.
However, compared to the same point in 2020 when the pandemic was burning at its hottest, the amount of investment decreased from a high of $91.2 million USD across 42 funding rounds recorded in H1 2020.
So what impact could the e-Health systems have when it comes to health care services in Africa?
Efficiency: E-health has the potential to save time. Patients, for example, may make their own appointments with their healthcare providers online instead of queuing for appointments. In addition, some solutions allow patients with certain conditions to get diagnosed online without leaving their houses.
Platforms like Ilara Health provide accessible and affordable diagnostics to the disadvantaged who are reportedly up to 500 million people in Africa.
The startup partners with companies using artificial intelligence and robotics to lower the overall cost of diagnostics and integrates these companies’ devices onto its platform.
Ilara Health procures tech-powered diagnostic equipment at affordable prices and makes the same equipment available to healthcare facilities who then pay over a period of time.
Insight into own health: People can have a better vision and understanding of their own health by using a personal digital healthcare environment.
They can share any of their data with healthcare providers, which helps the healthcare provider to work more smoothly, easily evaluate the correct medication, and prevent errors because both patients and healthcare providers can easily access the patient’s treatment history.
Afyarekod is a Kenyan based digital health data platform that focuses on the patient and allows health facilities to capture, store, and have real-time access and mobility of the patients’ health data.
Developed as a patient-driven platform, the patient maintains the sovereign right of ownership of their health data. Using AI and various blockchain modules, AfyaRekod allows health institutions, partners, and patients to make insightful data-driven decisions that allow doctors to provide better healthcare for patients.
Accessible in remote areas: While E-health solutions allow remote areas to be reached, they still rely on mobile and internet coverage.
They can be a solution for Africa where road infrastructure is still a challenge in rural areas and citizens have to travel long distances to access health facilities. With their phones, they can have direct access to some health information. Platforms like BYON8 allow you to access doctors and seek consultation.
Based at Nairobi Garage, the goal of the platform is to make high-quality healthcare more accessible, affordable, and equal by digitalizing healthcare on an individual level.
The BYON8 app was developed as a result of over 4 years of medical research and development launching in late 2020.
Useful tool during the pandemics and resulting lockdowns: During the Covid-19 outbreak, people experienced a different life of staying home where almost all activities were shut down and people with chronic health conditions such as hypertension, cardiovascular diseases, and diabetes were at risk.
People realized that e-health systems were very important since they could get an online diagnosis while staying home as this could reduce the spread of the disease as well.
During this pandemic, e-health also helped in the provision of mental healthcare. Many common online platforms made it possible to achieve the goal of offering systemic, affordable, and comprehensive mental health resources to healthcare professionals and the general public.
Beyond the pandemic, the systems still remain important and hence need a push for the adoption of the ehealth systems.
With containment measures having been put in place and the pangs of the pandemic being slightly tough across the continent, there is a great opportunity for Africa to turn to mobile innovations in order to leapfrog the continent’s e-health services.
It is time to revamp our healthcare delivery systems – to enable equitable and high-quality delivery of healthcare to households to combat the pandemic and to reinvent healthcare systems for the post-pandemic era.