A recent report found that seven of the 10 fastest-growing internet populations are in Africa
Mobile technology is rapidly transforming the way business is being conducted in Africa, particularly in the healthcare industry, as a result of the growth in internet connectivity.
With patients in Africa having to wait in long queues, travel vast distances or wait weeks for a visit from a healthcare provider, e-health innovations have the potential to change the lives of millions.
These unique circumstances and distinctive medical conditions faced on the continent are resulting in African companies that understand these challenges best, leading the way to rapid change.
Prior to the start of World Economic Forum on Africa 2017 held earlier in May, global leaders convened to innovatively tackle challenges faced by Africa’s healthcare sector.
Delivering the keynote address, the president of Mauritius who is a renowned biodiversity scientist, Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, said: “Africa urgently needs science, technology, and innovation to secure a prosperous, healthy, peaceful, and sustainable future”.
A good example of innovation in healthcare is the recently launched ConnectMed, an online medical service in Kenya that is taking e-health services to a new level.
ConnectMed allows patients to access doctors via a video link (such as Skype) on their computers, tablets or smartphones and get prescriptions, sick notes and referrals.
For patients without internet access, the company will be rolling out physical stations with computers in locations such as pharmacies and cyber cafés.
This service is a change from what has been available. Initially, due to limited smartphone penetration and internet connectivity, e-start-ups in Africa focused on healthcare-booking platforms and integrated health solutions that refer patients to a network of doctors.
A common trend on the continent has been to follow the blueprint of companies in developed markets such as Babylon Heath, a company in the UK that offers a digital healthcare app via an artificial intelligence powered chatbot.
However, platforms working in developed markets don’t know about African disease. This has seen the launch of start-ups such as Kangpe Health, a mobile app started by a doctor in Nigeria that provides a platform for patients to type in medical questions. Medical staff provide answers or refer the customer to a doctor. Other start-ups such as MedAfrica in Kenya, Matibabu in Uganda, which focuses on malaria, and SA’s Hello Doctor provide similar question-and-answer services.
Africa’s internet connectivity is fast catching up with that of its developed counterparts, allowing for innovations such as ConnectMed. A recent report said that seven of the 10 fastest-growing internet populations are in Africa.
This growth has not gone unnoticed by investors, as indicated by the record $366.8m of investment raised by African start-ups during 2016. The fintech sector received the most of this funding.
Recent expansion into Africa by global giants such as Google, Facebook, IBM, Uber and Netflix, which have extended new product offerings to African consumers, is likely to result in increased internet access.
In order to reach the maximum benefit from their products, many of these companies are investing in African infrastructure in order to improve internet connectivity and create greater access to users.
With 40% of sub-Saharan Africa’s population under the age of 15, according to the World Bank, this generation is embracing the advances in technology making the African healthcare sector ripe for disruption.
Evan Spiegel, founder of multinational technology company Snap, holding company of Snapchat, wrote in the company’s initial public offering letter to investors that “in the way that the flashing cursor became the starting point for most products on desktop computers, we believe that the camera screen will be the starting point for most products on smartphones”.
As the continent’s technology and smartphone penetration improve, healthcare in Africa – a service that remains largely inaccessible to many – is increasingly becoming a click of the button away.
*This article originally appeared in Business Day.
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