E-health solutions must have end-user as focal point

Saturday March 29 2014

By CHRISTABEL LIGAMI Special Correspondent

Africa's mobile health care market is estimated to reach $1.2 billion by 2017, according to a new survey by Excelsior Group.

This estimated growth does not include other potential investment areas for e-health such as health management information systems.

Kenya, whose mobile penetration is projected to have reached 77 per cent by 2017, is expected to be a significant part of this market.

But, while the use of the mobile health care technology is widespread, the programs are not yet up to scale.

“In Kenya, for example, out of the 183 innovative health care programs, only 44 per cent have been implemented and are working efficiently,” said Felix Olale, Excelsior group executive chairman.

“Finding out what models work and catalysing their growth could place the goal of transforming the health of Africans firmly within reach,” he added.

Dr Olale said that the problem with African countries is that e-health systems are not integrated and are instead run by different independent organisations. Among the countries that have embraced e-health technology in Africa are Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, Ethiopia, Rwanda and Ghana.

The survey indicates that East Africa is currently the hub of e-health technologies in Africa with over 100 innovative programs currently in place. However very few of these systems are expected to scale up into sustainable enterprises with most remaining speculative pilots.

Anurag Mairal the program lead for technology solutions at PATH, a global healthcare innovator, said that the e-health sector has had many interesting projects that have been taken to the field, but most are neither sustainable nor scalable.

“A lot of solutions have come from technologists and engineers who are excited by the technology, but at times, they are not starting with the true need. If you first start with the need, then consider the technologies to apply as well as the overall business model and ecosystem, the solution might be very different. End-users must be central to the design,” said Dr Mairal.

He said that if the innovation does not make lives easier, or reduce costs substantially for the stakeholders, the product is not going to get adopted and that’s what is happening in most countries.

“The massive spread of smart phones and health-related applications has accelerated the development of e-health,” said Jay Sanders, CEO of The Global Telemedicine Group adding that understanding what models work, and growing them to scale, will be the key to radically improving health outcomes for all Africans.