• Sunday, June 16, 2024
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Strengthening health tech in Africa: A pathway to scaling public health interventions

Health investors look to high technology to attract big-ticket patients

There are gross inadequacies in Africa’s healthcare system, with countries across the continent constantly facing significant disruptions in their medicine supply chains and last mile health-service delivery, inadequate medicine data storage and analysis, and poor financing. However, with the recent innovations in technology, particularly accelerated by the pandemic, there are new possibilities to significantly improve access to healthcare in Africa.

Global innovations in health tech

The healthcare industry globally has experienced significant digital transformation and improvements in health tech, particularly since the beginning of the pandemic era. Digitization has played a critical role in improving essential remote care services, real-time data tracking of pandemic trends, and in achieving a rapid roll-out of vaccines globally.

Worldwide advancements in technology are helping to solve some of the world’s most pressing healthcare challenges; from innovations in telemedicine, remote patient monitoring devices like wearable biosensors that monitor vital signs of hypertensive and diabetic patients, online cognitive behavioural management tools for mental health patients, to innovations in drones, big data analytics and information management, etc.

There is an urgent need for radical innovative solutions to address the current difficulties in Africa’s underdeveloped healthcare systems. This is essential to break down the barriers that prevent equitable access to quality care and vital medicines…

Technology is also playing a significant role in developed countries for the management of non-communicable diseases (NCDs). Global examples of technology deployment for NCDs include: Be Healthy Be Mobile India; smoking cessation, AccuHealth Chile; wearable sensor that predicts NCD risk, AxisMed Brazil; tracking blood sugar and blood pressure, etc.

Africa’s health tech is rising

There is an urgent need for radical innovative solutions to address the current difficulties in Africa’s underdeveloped healthcare systems. This is essential to break down the barriers that prevent equitable access to quality care and vital medicines, particularly in remote communities.

In recent years, there has been some significant advancement in Africa’s health tech with enormous opportunities for growth. Health-tech entrepreneurs in Africa have shown an impressive ability to maximise the resources available to them. There has been a great rise in the number of innovative medical and healthcare start-ups in Africa. These firms cover a range of healthcare areas such as drug procurement, health literacy, genetic sequencing, etc. Examples include, DrugStoc, 54gene, Reliance HMO, Vezeeta, Babymigo, mymedicine.com amongst several others.

The response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has led to more innovation and investment in the health sector, with Africa’s health tech attracting more funding over the last two years than ever before.

Barriers to scaling health tech in Africa

There is a tremendous opportunity for health-tech start-ups in Africa to grow quickly because of the similarities in the challenges faced in the healthcare system across the continent. Therefore, a project successfully established in a country can be replicated in others. For example, mPharma, a pioneer telehealth company in Ghana, is set to establish 100 virtual centres across Africa.

Despite these opportunities, health-tech start-ups in Africa face significant barriers in scaling across the continent. Some of these barriers include inadequate policies and gaps in policy effectiveness, poor funding, unavailability of health personnel with the required expertise, inadequate access to health equipment, and poor community and user integration with the technology.

Strategies to strengthen health tech in Africa

To encourage innovation and growth in health-tech across the continent, there is a need for a collaborative effort from key stakeholders in Africa’s health sector such as the government, private sector, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) both local and international.

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Strategies to strengthen and build sustainability in health tech in Africa include:

• Leveraging expertise of diverse players in the health space to maximise the impact of health tech. For example, Bloom Public Health is partnering with Drugstoc, Zypline and others to deliver an innovative Drug Revolving Fund (DRF) solution in some states in Nigeria with the aim scaling up across the continent. Here, each party comes with a unique strength and expertise to deliver a superb value to the patient using technology.

• African governments should develop and sustain policies that encourage health-tech innovation. Health-tech entrepreneurs need clear rules and a stable operating environment to attract capital.

• Significant financial investments are crucial for sustainable strengthening of Africa’s health tech sector. Establishment of robust financial structures is key to provide funding for health-tech start-ups. This can be through government taxation, private insurance, donations, and even out-of-pocket payments.

• Training and capacity building for healthcare professionals is necessary to develop the required expertise needed to replicate global innovations in health-tech in Africa.

• Health ministries across the continent should use their platforms to promote the health-tech start-ups and their achievements in local communities. This will be beneficial in increasing community acceptance and integration of these technologies.

Innovation in Africa’s healthcare sector is a crucial pathway to scaling public health interventions and achieving universal health coverage. At Bloom Public Health, we firmly believe that strengthening health tech in Africa will allow patients to take greater ownership of their own health and enable healthcare providers to deliver better care to many more people, thereby reducing the burden on our healthcare system.

Anyakora is the CEO of Bloom Public Health and a public health expert &

Odibeli is a pharmacist and the research and communications coordinator at Bloom Public Health