Development in Africa has had a long history of Western influence, which often doesn’t address African needs. When it comes to health, community-developed programmes are far more successful. With this in mind, we are seeing a boom in local health technologies tailored to fit the needs of the communities they’re developed for.
Here are five innovative healthcare technologies addressing Africa’s healthcare challenges:
Reducing mother and baby mortality
Each year, an estimated three million newborn deaths, two million stillbirths and 200,000 maternal deaths occur worldwide. Over 60% of these deaths occur in developing countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, where mothers-to-be often forego adequate healthcare because it is costly and difficult to access. To fight this high mortality rate, a group of young African developers in Uganda used Microsoft technology to create Winsenga – an affordable ultrasound that plugs into a mobile phone and is operated by an app.
This allows doctors and midwives in low-resource settings to monitor the health of the foetus during pregnancy and labour. And having better equipped medical personnel could increase the chance of mother and baby survival by as much as 80%.
From paper-based to e-health systems
With a population of more than 96 million, one of Ethiopia’s biggest challenges is ensuring its citizens have access to adequate healthcare. To address this, Dr Wuletta Lemma, Director of the Centre for Global Health Equity at Tulane University, worked with Microsoft to create a 100% locally run and maintained e-health system. Now, more than 3,000 healthcare institutions across Ethiopia are using the e-health system, enabling them to digitise health records, streamline the patient experience and gather patient data, which the ministry of health can use to monitor key health indicators. Elsewhere in Africa, Rwanda is also leading the way in e-health, with an internet-based app called TRACnet, which gathers and presents HIV-related data around drug supply levels and patient load.
Providing access to quality healthcare
Access to quality healthcare is top of mind in emerging markets. access.mobile is a digital health company that uses mobile and cloud-based technologies to address this issue. One of its solutions, amHealth, is an affordable, secure and easy-to-use technology, which simplifies practice management and improves patient engagement. The system is now being used in more than 100 health facilities in Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and Nigeria, reaching an estimated two million patients. With high levels of mobile penetration across Africa, m-health (mobile health) initiatives are also improving access to healthcare on the continent. SMS-based m-health projects in Kenya, Mozambique and Uganda remind patients to take their medication and keep their medical appointments. Wireless Reach Initiative in Kenya takes this a step further by equipping anti-retroviral treatment centres with 3G connectivity to monitor patients’ drug adherence.
Improving the health of the most vulnerable
Botswana boasts one of the most secure economies in Africa, but deadly diseases undermine that stability. These diseases are easily preventable with the right skills and resources, but a large part of the country’s population is rural, and doctors who can diagnose them and provide specialised healthcare are difficult to access. To get around this, Microsoft and the Botswana Innovation Hub launched Africa’s first telemedicine service, which harnesses the power of TV White Spaces – the unused frequencies in the TV spectrum – for broadband connectivity. Now, health personnel can conduct consultations to patients in the most remote areas via Skype for Business. Doctors can also access high-resolution pictures on the cloud, meaning they can “examine” the patient in real time, regardless of where the patient is, and make a diagnosis and prescribe treatment straight away.
Similarly, the IKON app in Mali allows rural clinics to forward their scans and x-rays to specialists, for advice on diagnosis and treatment.
Millennial healthcare innovation
Considering millennials are the most adept at using technology, and will be the ones who need to make use of the healthcare system of the future, it’s unsurprising that they’re coming up with innovative, technology-led healthcare solutions. For example, two of the winning teams of the Imagine Cup 2016 Pan Arab Semi-Finals, hailing from Tunisia, impressed the judges with their healthcare-related entries. ‘Protect Me’, by Team Basilisk, is a solution for people with diabetes. Some patients lose sensitivity in their feet, and can develop ulcers that can require amputation. This solution contains microsensors, which measure pressure on the defective part of the sole of the foot, providing on-demand information wirelessly, to avoid the aggravation of ulcers. ‘Smart Hand’, by Team Night’s Watch, is a prosthetic hand that uses a Myo Armband and a phone app. The user can program the hand using the app, and is able to grab items, shake hands and even use a PC mouse.
A boom in African healthcare innovation
Innovation in healthcare is a trend to watch out for in Africa. This boom in innovative healthcare technologies couldn’t come at a better time, with many Africa countries lacking the clinics and basic equipment to serve their citizens. Demands on healthcare systems are also increasing as diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/Aids, as well as non-communicable diseases like cancer, hypertension, diabetes and heart disease are on the rise. However, with Africa’s ability to leapfrog legacy technologies from the developed world, it’s possible to overcome these challenges – and we’re already seeing this in action.
By Amr Kamel