Disruptive technologies needed to improve healthcare in Africa

Tuesday March 26 2019

A technician of California-based robotics company Zipline launches a drone, on October 12, 2016 in Muhanga,

A technician of California-based robotics company Zipline launches a drone, on October 12, 2016 in Muhanga, Rwanda. PHOTO FILE | NATION 

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With only two percent of the world’s doctors, healthcare in Africa will not meet the standards necessary to combat its disease burden, experts say.

This calls for a continent-wide adoption of disruptive technologies and innovations in healthcare that should be part of the discussions for inclusion in the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) pact, adds the specialists.

"How do you get drugs to inaccessible rural areas or in high population areas in urban areas? That's where innovation comes in play, and companies like Zipline are doing this effectively," Marie-Ange Saraka-Yao, the Managing Director of Resource Mobilisation at GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance told delegates at the African CEO Forum in Kigali on Monday.

Zipline is a California-based company that uses drones to deliver blood and medical supplies to the far-flung regions in Rwanda and Ghana.

Stakeholders point out that while the novelties are needed, political and business interests undermine their adoption and implementation.

“From my experience, there is a lot of resistance to innovation in healthcare because of political and business interests. A lot of businesses benefit from bad policies to steal drugs, sell counterfeit drugs, as well as to make it hard for patients to make settlement claims,” said Michael Macharia, the CEO of SevenSeas Technologies.


“That is why we need this discussion at the forefront of regional and continental integration. Millions of people are affected but little emphasis is being placed on innovation in the health sector,” he added.

The Kenyan firm has developed information systems for hospitals that help to improve service delivery and track movement of medicines and funds.

According to the World Health Organisation, healthcare in Africa has improved especially with mortality rate falling by 37 percent between 2000 and 2015, morbidity due to malaria also declined sharply by 66 percent, while life expectancy improved by six percent.

However, experts argue that much of the progress is not sustainable because it has been achieved through donations and aid from international organisations and rich countries.

“Africa still has a 10-year lower life expectancy than the global average. Progress has been made but there is still much work to be done. Accelerating this work needs new approaches through digital solutions along important primary healthcare dimensions to improve the quality of healthcare while reducing its cost,” Amit Thakker, the Chairman of Africa Healthcare Foundation said.

He also called on governments to invest heavily in the protection of healthcare data systems from the growing threat of hackers and unscrupulous officials.

Africa represents 54 percent of the global communicable disease burden, according to the WHO, yet majority of the countries lack sufficient qualified physicians or the infrastructure to deal with the outbreaks of epidemics such as Ebola and cholera.

This challenge, experts say, should be taken head on by developing policies that incentivise the easy flow of technological flows across Africa, which are specifically geared towards serving the healthcare.