We are living in a world where technology grows every day with significant discoveries in many domains. From the first cell phone to the smartphones of today, technology has grown immensely. At the same time, scientists have been making great progress in the field of healthcare. Today, health and well-being go hand-in-hand with technology which can provide unlimited access to various remote services.
While other continents are undergoing technological growth to provide access to health, what is the reality in Africa? How can technology improve healthcare in Africa? Despite the fact that technological innovations in Africa are not widely common, there are some people who try to do their part in this field, although they encounter difficulties in the way forward.
According to thought leaders at the BearingPoint Institute, health-related challenges are greater in Africa than anywhere else in the world. Three structural issues affect healthcare across the continent:
> Health insurance acceptance and use need to be broadened. This includes protection against non-payment risks. By keeping the moment of payment separate from treatment, insurance encourages use of health services. Software solutions can underpin the risk-sharing process, enable more effective and secure management and encourage financial pooling of risk.
> There’s a long-lasting shortage of trained healthcare personnel. With telemedicine-based solutions, ICT can partially compensate for this shortfall.
> The quality and reach of healthcare infrastructure can be significantly improved, from treatment centers to medicine distribution, catalysed by the fight against counterfeit drugs or enabling networks of expertise. ICT can respond here as well, through connecting hospitals, improving operational logistics for medicines and so on.
While ICT companies cannot solve all of Africa’s healthcare problems, they can offer innovative solutions. As shown by the mobile phone payment model (‘M-Payment’) which replaces bank accounts and associated mechanisms, ICT services offer alternative solutions to alleviate health specific obstacles and those felt more broadly across the continent. While ICT offers one element of the overall response, it still deserves specific focus due to its innovative nature.
We can consider some applications that are designed for medical care or assistance such as:
MedAfrica is a Medical Services Content Platform that seeks to create health awareness among consumers from the comfort of their mobile phones. It also seeks to increase interactions and purposeful engagements between health practitioners and consumers of their services.
Developed in Cote d’Ivoire by Dawkins Kamara and launched on 1 November, the service aims to educate the public about the Ebola virus.
Created by a former student of the Beninese top multinational Telecommunications School (ESMT) in Dakar, Yannick Grimaud, “SenGeoSanté” is an Android application that allows Senegalese to locate all health facilities on a map, with or without connection. Laboratories, pharmacies, hospitals are pinpointed by region, county or district. Users have access to the addresses and telephone numbers of nearby health facilities.
MPedigree: Fight against fake drugs
This isn’t just strictly speaking an application, but rather a platform for SMS mobile networking to fight against the scourge of counterfeit drugs, which kill over 100,000 people each year in Africa (WHO). Ghanaian, Bright Simons, launched the system in 2007 to authenticate medicines through a collaboration between pharmaceutical industries and all levels of government.
It is now possible to diagnose malaria without a blood sample or a laboratory. Developed in 2013 by four students from Uganda’s Makerere University in Kampala, the application “Matibabu”, which means “medical center” in Swahili, can be used to check if the user is infected or not. With this innovation, the developers won the “2013 UN Women Empowerment Award” worth $12 000. This money allowed them to start their own business. In Uganda, over 30 million people suffer from malaria and it’s the greatest cause of mortality in the country.
Finally, technology cannot solve all our problems, but it can assist health service delivery by reducing travel overheads and enabling faster communications. Over 2% of healthcare spending in Africa is ICT related, with a strong annual growth of 9%. While many projects are still at an experimental stage, they offer an indication of how this domain will evolve.
By Mawuli AKPALO, S2C Ambassador, Togo YMCA