By Joseph Pategou
Access to healthcare is an issue for the populace in many African countries. Over the next thirty years, the population of Africa is expected to grow at a rate of 250% to reach 4.2 billion. It can be expected that the demand for healthcare in the continent will grow at the same rate.
Africa has emerged as one of the fastest growing markets for mobile phones in the world, after witnessing a tremendous increase in smartphone usage over the past decade. The continent currently boasts of approximately one billion mobile network subscribers. Mr. Eric Cador, the President of Lenovo (EMEA region), said, “Africa is one of the first continents where first-hand users are testing the internet, phone-first. That’s pretty new, which makes Africa the biggest continent for smartphones – bigger than China, bigger than India.” However, the impact of digitisation on the access to healthcare facilities in Africa remains to be seen.
Reasons behind the mobile phone boom in Africa
The position enjoyed by the African continent in the mobile market is due to a continuous increase in mobile phone shipments which is estimated to reach 155 million by 2020. South Africa, Nigeria, Egypt and Morocco are leaders in the demand for these phones. The penetration of mobile phone networks in many African countries surpasses accessibility of other basic infrastructural facilities such as paved roads and electricity.
Digitisation of health care: advantages and opportunities galore
This increasing availability of smartphones provides an opportunity for the development of the healthcare industry. The advantages of mobile technologies in public health initiatives are tremendous: availability, cost effectiveness and real-time access to information to list a few. This has incentivised the World Health Organization to launch a partnership with the International Telecommunication Union, called the ‘Health Initiative’, which uses mobile technology like text messaging and apps to help combat non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and cancer.
Diagnosis and monitoring services are expected to be the two largest opportunities in the continent with market shares of about 60% and 29% respectively. Furthermore, 75% of the current mobile health deployments in Africa focus on improving the efficiency of the healthcare workforce and systems. Also, services that propagate messages of prevention and awareness aimed at reducing the spread of infectious diseases and constitute around 20% of total deployments.
Key points to ensure further growth of the healthcare industry
In the development of healthcare facilities, the following aspects need to be factored in for the best results:-
1. Government Trust: All the involved parties need to work closely with their respective governments to create trust between all stakeholders.
2. Regulatory Support: Regulations put in place by each country in Africa need to support the development of health market.
3. Physicians Acceptance: Physicians need to work closely with publishers to come up with the best methods to help patients and physicians.
4. User Adoption: People need to be educated on the benefits of healthcare for wider acceptance in society.
The growing penetration of mobile technology has started to transform the way in which healthcare services are delivered. But there are lessons to be learnt to bring the operations to scale. Once all the kinks are ironed out, this will support African countries in their efforts to develop the healthcare system by reducing cost and increasing availability and innovation.
Joseph Pategou is a consultant specialised in the pharmaceutical industry. He is fascinated by healthcare and the experiences of many companies to develop new types of drugs with the aim of saving lives around the world. His main topics of passion in the healthcare sphere include strategy, digital, innovation and biosimilars.
Featured Image Credits: Qualcomm Developer Network
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