Authors: Joy Kwamboka & Daniel Kitheka
During the 1990s, Africa faced considerable economic challenges that had a detrimental impact on the health status of its population (World Bank, 1994). Unlike regions such as Asia and Latin America, which experienced robust growth with per capita income increasing by 2-3 per cent, Africa struggled to achieve an annual growth rate of just above 1 per cent(World Bank, 1994). Furthermore, Africa witnessed a substantial increase in its population during this period, exacerbating the strain on an already struggling economy. Consequently, governments and households encountered difficulties in allocating sufficient resources to essential social services, including healthcare, which had adverse effects on the overall well-being of the population (World Bank, 1994). Due to the unsustainable economic situation in most African countries and the significant concern of poverty during that period, access to modern medicines and drugs for treating and managing diseases became limited(World Bank, 1994).
Consequently, the majority of people were compelled to rely on alternatives such as traditional medicine to ease access to medical treatment(Fokunang et. al., , 2011). However, from the 2000s until now, the World Health Organization (WHO) has reported significant progress in achieving Universal Health Coverage. This means that all individuals have access to a comprehensive range of quality health services, precisely when and where they require them, without facing financial hardship(WHO, 2022). This advancement has been made possible due to the development of national health strategies, the establishment of health financing mechanisms, the expansion of access to essential health services, and partnerships with various donor agencies, among other factors.
Further, digital health apps have also played a significant role in enhancing the accessibility of health services in the region(Micheni & Kioko, 2018). As of 2017, Sub-Saharan Africa had 778 cellular and 300 mobile internet subscriptions per 1000 people( Gandhi, 2019). With the increasing usage of cell phones, access to quality healthcare is no longer limited to urban areas(Micheni & Kioko, 2018). Technology has revolutionized the way we receive medical care by enabling people in even the most remote regions to access quality healthcare services through their mobile devices(Micheni & Kioko, 2018). For instance, health apps like “Hello Doctor” have made accessing medical advice incredibly convenient. Users can now engage in text conversations with qualified doctors and receive prompt responses, all from the comfort of their own homes.
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With a wide range of these health applications such as remote consultation apps, health information, symptom checkers and self-diagnosis, fitness and medication management applications, each has played a noticeable role in enhancing the user’s well-being (Micheni & Kioko, 2018). All of these have improved healthcare accessibility by bringing important information and services one click away (Micheni & Kioko, 2018). They have empowered their users to actively participate in bettering their health status (Micheni & Kioko, 2018). They have also enhanced better communication between healthcare providers and the users of the applications leading to improved overall health outcomes (Micheni & Kioko, 2018).
The health tech landscape in Africa holds significant importance… with limited healthcare infrastructure in many regions and a shortage of medical professionals, health tech solutions offer a viable means to bridge the gap and reach underserved populationsWHO, 2021
Telemedicine has been growing even before smartphones were invented (Lancet, 1879). From an article in the Lancet in 1879, the telephone was already positioned as a tool that reduce unnecessary office visits. In 1925, a cover of Science and Invention Magazine showed a doctor diagnosing a patient by radio (Science and Invention Magazine, 1925). Since then, telemedicine has grown over the years in most parts of the world, including Sub-Saharan Africa (Kimwele & Mutua, 2021). The awareness of the existence of some technologies in the health sector was minimal until the Covid pandemic struck, and the need to minimize physical contact to help reduce the virus spread accelerated the adoption of telemedicine as a safer means to do consultations (Kimwele & Mutua, 2021). The pandemic highlighted the importance of remote healthcare and created an urgency to leverage telemedicine to deliver care (Kimwele & Mutua, 2021).
There was a time when one had no option but to carry a physical booklet or card to health centers when going for treatment? Those days are gone but still not in all parts of most countries in Africa (Adedokun, et. al., 2020). In Kenya, the rural population is still lagging behind in implementing these new technologies such as Electronic Medical Records (Adedokun et. al., 2020). Technology has really streamlined the health sector but has also created new issues (Adedokun, et. al., 2020). Some possible problems include the privacy and security risks as electronic records are prone to data breaches (Adedokun et. al., 2020). Also, with the absence of a centralized medical records system, sharing patient information between healthcare seems not possible and the patient has to do registration on every new healthcare facility that they visit (Adedokun et. al., 2020).
The health tech landscape in Africa holds significant importance due to its potential to revolutionize healthcare access and delivery across the continent. With limited healthcare infrastructure in many regions and a shortage of medical professionals, health tech solutions offer a viable means to bridge the gap and reach underserved populations (WHO, 2021). Mobile health apps and telemedicine platforms have the capability to connect remote communities with quality healthcare services, providing crucial medical advice and support . Moreover, health tech innovations can enhance disease surveillance, data collection, and analysis, leading to more informed and evidence-based public health interventions (Dia, 2022). By leveraging the power of technology and data, the health tech landscape in Africa has the potential to transform healthcare outcomes and improve the overall well-being of its people.
All in all, a lot still needs to be done to create public awareness of the existence of these technologies in the health sector that can help streamline most health issues from an individual level to national health improvement (Adedokun et. al., 2020). Some possible ways to achieve this include campaigns to the public on how health tech can ease access, affordability, and quality of healthcare services (Adedokun et. al., 2020).
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