Africa bolsters telemedicine in race for good health

CONRAD ONYANGO

FOR a long time, most Africans were used to visiting dispensaries, chemists or present themselves physically to hospitals to gain access to life-saving healthcare services. However, the trend has seen a significant change over the last two years as countries in the continent begin to set up virtual health care systems in the race for good health.

More Africans are now accessing life-saving medicines, check-ups, referrals, and consultation services over their mobile phones, on the back of the rapidly growing digital healthcare system.

Since 2019, Africa has recorded a steady rise in the number of health tech start-ups that are now playing a huge role in reducing the cost of wellness for millions of people.

Google-IFC “e-Conomy Africa 2020” report shows that African patients and doctors are racing head to head with their global peers in using telemedicine at a time most people have reduced in-person visits to hospitals to combat the spread of the virus.

“Africa is no exception. As a result, the continent has seen telemedicine solutions and last-mile drug delivery gain traction over this period,” read the report.

A total of 28 innovations that have cut a niche product distribution can now be traced in Kenya, Nigeria, Ghana, and South Africa, according to another research done by Salient, a health consulting firm.

Kenya and Nigeria are leading the continent with vibrant health tech ecosystems with more than 10 digital healthcare service providers each.

“Innovators are reducing the direct cost of products, reducing the variability in costs and reducing the transaction costs their customers incur,” according to Salient’s 2019 Africa-focused Report titled, Innovations in Health Product Distribution.

In Kenya, online pharmacy, MyDawa is on a countrywide expansion following a Sh300 million (3 million US dollars) funding in 2019. More than 80,000 users have been registered on the platform.

Living goods with operations in Kenya and Uganda has set out a target of reaching supporting 34,000 digitally empowered community health workers to enable it to provide quality primary health care to more than 25 million people by 2021.

In Nigeria, 54gene, a start-up that collects DNA from Africans to unlock hidden and often overlooked data, has been expanding its value offering to include mass COVID-19 testing labs.

Another firm, Lifebank, which offers healthcare and logistics services in the West African country, launched drive-through COVID-19 testing centers and expanded its oxygen delivery services to support treatment efforts.

Ghana, begun rolling out telemedicine in 2016 to counter shortage of medical professionals, especially in the country’s rural areas. Now the West African Country has close to 10 digital health service providers.

South Africa is also warming up to grow its telemedicine market.

According to the Google-IFC “e-Conomy Africa 2020” report, the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) changed some rules during the COVID-19, to allow first-time consultations to take place virtually, with some groups even changing their policies to allow for remote telemedicine consultations to occur at full billing rates.

Operators in South Africa include ePharmacy and Global Health.

Companies like Sproxil, mPedigree, mPharma, and Global health have a presence in more than three countries in Africa.

The African healthcare market was valued at over 85 billion US dollars in 2017 and is expected to reach over 100 billion US dollars by 2030 growing at a compounded annual growth rate of 7.9 per cent.

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