Paving the Way for Digital Health in North, East and West Africa
Amine Mansouri, Principal - Technology & Services, North, East and West Africa
Feb 10, 2020

Africa faces a growing burden of communicable and noncommunicable diseases due to inadequate and deficient health infrastructure, regional disparities of medical and paramedical resources, and a lack of information communicated to patients.

In Malawi, for example, there is only one physician per 53,000 citizens, one surgeon per 1,000,000 people and a 7% infantile death rate among children younger than 5 years.

To help solve the inefficiencies and resource gaps in the healthcare systems in the continent, African countries need technological solutions that are pragmatic, affordable and easy to access.

The rapidly growing internet penetration of the continent, the first necessary step as part of this solution, is already afoot, and the number of internet and social media users throughout Africa is a promising sign.

Overview of Internet Penetration and Connectivity in Africa

Sources: Population - United Nations; U.S. Census bureau. Mobile: GSMA intelligence. Internet: internetworldstats; ITU; World Bank; CIA world factbook; Eurostat; local government bodies and regulatory authorities;; reports in reputable media. Social media - platforms’ self-serve advertising tools; press releases and investor earnings announcements; Arab social media report; Techrasa; Niki Aghaei; (all latest available data in January 2019).

E-Health Companies: Already a Reality

Current Healthcare situation has also encouraged the emergence of dozens of healthcare startups aiming at easing pressure on traditional health services and helping patients better manage their conditions.

The pharmaceutical industry, aware of these challenges and the need for a radical change in the way it operates, has set up incubators for these Health-Techs to support them and help them develop and deploy innovative solutions to some of the most pressing challenges healthcare systems in the region face.

Sanofi, Bayer, Merck or Pierre Fabre are a few examples of pharmaceutical multinationals providing mentoring & financial support to e-Health start-ups in Africa. (see image below)

Pharmaceutical companies play a significant role in digital healthcare development, providing mentoring & financial support to e-health start-ups.

Source: IQVIA Analysis

E-health companies are already a reality in the continent, providing diversified services and contributing to greater care access and improved patient wellbeing. Examples of such e-health efforts include:

In Morocco, the Ministry of Health is in the process of implementing a promising pilot project to ensure better access to care for people in landlocked regions through the gradual deployment of telemedicine units in 160 isolated municipalities, representing 6.25% of the population by 2025.

In Algeria, AQUINETIC, a DSAAS (Data Science as a Service) startup, offers solutions to visualize rare diseases data.

AHMINI in Tunisia provides a simplified subscription to health insurance for rural women via mobile phone.

SUSU in Côte d’Ivoire is a platform offering healthcare packages (prevention, treatment and medication) to African diaspora once back to their home country.

Kenyan start-up KEHEALA developed a mobile health platform that empowers patients with behavioral intervention and disease management.

WellNewMe in Nigeria designed an online platform assessing health risks of individuals using an algorithmic approach.

Digital Migration of Healthcare Professionals and Patients in North Africa

Recent studies conducted by IQVIA in Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia demonstrated that healthcare professionals (physicians) and patients have already taken the digital leap.

Four out of 10 doctors are already active in digital media, and more than 50% of them confirm that usage of digital media has increased over the last few years.

The same trend has been observed for patients, almost a third of whom have used apps for health purposes, and half of them check doctors’ prescriptions on the Internet (see image below).

These behaviors showcase the paradigm shift in the way HCPs and patients approach their daily healthcare interactions. Therefore, it is crucial for the pharmaceutical industry and healthcare stakeholders to adapt to this new reality and explore innovative solutions to meet patients’ new and growing expectations.

Digital Migration of Healthcare Professionals and Patients in North Africa

The growing number of patients participating in the management of their own health has also resulted in an increasing focus of pharmaceutical companies on Patient Support Programs.

These programs aim to improve the quality of life for patients and increase patient adherence to treatments by offering numerous services, including disease information, online access to nurses and healthcare professionals or financial assistance.

New technology platforms available today in Africa greatly facilitate these programs and enable the inclusion, education and follow-up of a significant number of patients on priority diseases for most African countries (diabetes, oncology, etc.).

Pathway towards concretizing a robust digital healthcare ecosystem in Africa

The sustainable and holistic implementation of a digital health ecosystem should focus on four areas:

  • Standardization: Health systems have numerous stakeholders (doctors, pharmacists, paramedics, patients, administrators, financiers). Everyone speaks a different language, making standardization a necessity.
  • Regulatory compliance: As there is no clear regulatory framework in Digital Health, and given the sensitive nature of patient data, it is vital to strike the right balance between protecting patient data to comply with local laws and making health professionals’ data available for optimal patient care.
  • Coordination: Several e-health systems involving governments, NGOs, private investors and software companies operate in the absence of coordination between these different stakeholders, making these systems redundant and ineffective. Synchronized action between the various stakeholders would save time and improve productivity.
  • Tailor-made business model: Unlike other industries where technological innovation increases choice and lowers prices, healthcare innovation tends to drive prices up, hence the need to find the right compromise in order to ease access to these solutions to as many patients as possible.

Healthcare stakeholders in African countries must leverage the current digital health trends to address current infrastructure and resource gaps. This will implicate combined and simultaneous actions involving health authorities, health care providers and payers with a fluid exchange of information, enabling cost optimization for governments and payers, and a focus on more effective treatments for patients. This approach would also benefit from the establishment of public-private partnerships (PPPs) that would allow the two sectors to work together and implement strategic measures and appropriate regulations to achieve sustainable, long-term results.

For more details on healthcare technologies and digital trends in Africa, please contact us.

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