27 Aug 2019 / Article

Healthtech: “Despite all the innovations, progress is still too slow”

Improving healthcare systems is a priority for the continent. While Africa alone carries 25% of the global burden of disease and is home to 17% of the world’s population, it accounts for only 2% of the world’s doctors. “Over the past few decades, we have seen a number of advances in the sector: the mortality rate in Africa fell by 37% from 2000 to 2015,” says Mathieu Lamiaux, senior partner and managing director of the Boston Consulting Group. But, he adds: “The future of health in Africa today depends on a new approach that must be innovative, flexible and adaptable.”

A drive to innovate

In Africa, healthcare innovation is exploding, with an increasing number of medtech companies. These include Zipline, an American company that delivers blood bags by drone in Rwanda and Ghana; Kenya’s Toto Health, which uses mobile technology to combat maternal and infant mortality by detecting developmental abnormalities at an early stage; the British startup Babyl, which is expanding into Rwanda through its mobile medical consultation app; or Incitech (South Africa), which specializes in designing and creating innovative and easy-to-use rapid diagnostic technologies. The desire to “offer a different value to the patient stimulates the will for change and innovation,” says Amir Barsoum, Founder and CEO of Vezeeta.com, the leading online healthcare platform for medical appointment booking and clinic management in the Middle East and North Africa.

Targeted solutions

New information and communication technologies often make it possible to develop targeted solutions adapted to African contexts. Marie-Ange Saraka-Yao, Managing Director for resource allocation and private sector partnerships at Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, says that for her organization “the main concern we face is the delivery of vaccines to remote areas, those with the most difficult access. We are convinced that new technologies have a key role to play. We believe that innovation is the solution in terms of data and logistics and that it will provide a better response to epidemics.”

The public sector must be responsible for creating an environment in which innovation can flourish.

For Farid Fezoua, president and CEO of GE Africa, digital technology is essential for three parties in the healthcare equation: “Doctors, who need reliable data in their decision-making; patients, who can hold their own results, allowing them to meet several doctors and compare diagnoses; and the industry, in order to provide services and maintenance.”

Public sector architect

“Despite all these innovations, process is still too slow,” says Boston Consulting Group’s Lamiaux. “Innovation is crucial, but we must also ensure that the ecosystem in which we develop allows us to use it wisely. The public sector also has a role to play.”

“The public sector is the architect of health in Africa; the private sector is its advisor,” says Michael Macharia, founder and CEO of the Kenyan business Seven Seas Technologies, which provides integrated commercial and technological solutions. “The health field is a semi-public good: the public sector provides the framework in which healthcare is dispensed but it is the private sector that supplies the services,” he explains. Dr Amit Thakker, chair of the Africa Healthcare Federation, adds: “Innovation must be led by the private sector, while the public sector must be responsible for creating an environment in which innovation can flourish.”

Many of the speakers at the AFRICA CEO FORUM 2019 in Kigali agreed that education and health are two inseparable elements for development. For Lamiaux: “Education, particularly via online learning, is an essential factor in improving the healthcare system in Africa.” Macharia adds: “Digital healthcare must be included in university study programs.”

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