The statistics remain grim; nearly half of the world’s population still lacks access to essential health services, and each year at least 100 million people are pushed into poverty in the attempt to pay for access to these services.
Those figures should be an anomaly, but are the stark reality – and the fact remains that many of the people who fail to get much-needed access to care live in Africa. Emerging economies typically bear the brunt of a lack of access because of gaps in the availability of services and citizens battling to afford even the most basic healthcare.
The challenge of having such a high number of the continent’s people unable to access even basic healthcare, which is a fundamental human right is increasingly being offset by the introduction of solutions borne from rapid technological advancement – innovations that are removing traditional barriers to access.
One such innovation is telehealth – or telemedicine – which is the remote diagnosis and treatment of patients through the use of telecommunications and digital technology such as mobile devices and computers.
Telehealth as a viable solution in the quest for access to care
Telehealth has quickly gained itself a reputation as an effective solution to help achieve the goal of universal health coverage. The industry has grown exponentially and it is predicted that it will be worth approximately $89 million globally by 2023.
This growth can largely be attributed to telehealth’s benefits, which have been widely felt wherever it has been adopted. By enabling healthcare professionals to diagnose and treat patients without needing to see them face-to-face, telehealth effectively helps lower the costs of delivering healthcare services.
Telehealth also has the potential to overcome shortages of healthcare professionals by increasing access to specialists in bigger and more well-equipped medical centres, hospitals and academic institutions. This has far-reaching consequences in places such as Africa, where patients often have to walk long distances or catch multiple forms of transport before they even get the chance to join a long queue to see a medical professional – a reality I have often witnessed myself. I believe telehealth is a big step in the right direction of overcoming this challenge and I am heartened by the encouraging signs of its uptake in Africa.
All telehealth requires is access to a mobile device and internet connection, which has proved to be a massive area of growth in Africa.
Mobile has helped Africa leapfrog many of the challenges the continent faces – ranging from accessing financial services to education – so it comes as little surprise that subscriber penetration reached 444 million in 2017 and is expected to hit 634 million by 2025.
More than just being mobile, though, African citizens are making the move to smartphones and mobile broadband: from 250 million people with smartphones and 38 percent of all connections being mobile broadband at the end of 2017, this will accelerate to 690 million smartphones and mobile broadband connections sitting at 87 percent by 2025.
These millions with smartphones and mobile broadband connections are able to access life-changing – and life-saving – services, such as telehealth solutions.
Creating opportunities for access to healthcare is at the forefront of my vision and innovations like telehealth excite me. This shift has led to a proliferation of platforms and apps that open up access to care.
There are multiple kinds of apps that allow people to talk to or text doctors, get daily health tips and find out what their symptoms can mean, or which help people living with specific illnesses – such as diabetes – manage their disease. And these apps have widely proven to not only improve access to care, but also to ultimately improve the patient experience.
In fact, our latest Future Health Index (FHI) research has shown that a third of South African healthcare professionals say that their patients’ experience has been positively impacted by telehealth in the past five years. It has also indicated that 38% of South Africans are open to remote consultations for non-urgent care – showing the potential of telehealth as a tool to provide care.
Targeting poor and underserved communities
There are additional examples of telehealth solutions that have been implemented specifically to improve access and provide healthcare services to the poor and those living in remote, rural areas.
In Kenya, for instance, 450 healthcare providers have partnered with M-TIBA, a mobile service that allows people to send, spend and save money specifically for healthcare, to provide mobile ultrasounds for over 100 000 patients.
Kenya also launched its national telemedicine initiative for the poor and marginalised in rural areas in 2015. The initiative helps patients and healthcare providers in rural areas to use video conferencing to interact with experts at the country’s biggest referral hospital, Kenyatta National Hospital. This not only helps with diagnosis and treatment, but also with training and research.
In South Africa, the Impilo Initiative also helps give access to care in rural areas, but focuses specifically on women and girls and providing pre- and post-natal care. Established in 2018, it equips community health workers with smartphones and tablets to facilitate virtual doctor’s appointments.
Although there are no formal statistics on hand to reflect exactly how many patients these two initiatives have positively impacted, I have seen enough telehealth solutions in action to know that they make a tangible difference in the lives of the people that need it most.
Philips too, for example, has numerous telehealth solutions that we have piloted in Kenya that we can see are making a real difference in underserved communities. The Philips Foundation, for instance, is supporting a number of projects that explore the use of mobile ultrasound technology at primary care level to enhance availability of affordable services in the underserved communities and remote areas of Kenya.
One such project is called “Mimba Yangu”, in collaboration with the Centre of Excellence in Women and Child Health of the Aga Khan University, which is currently looking into the feasibility, impact and costs of quality antenatal care and examining if ultrasounds before 24 weeks of pregnancy, as recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO), will result in better health outcomes for mothers and babies.
Together with Amref International University, the Philips Foundation is also testing the viability of ultrasound in the business models of midwives. These projects look, in particular, at our Lumify and Philips Mobile Obstetrics Monitoring (MOM) solutions.
The Lumify uses a smartphone-based mobile app and portable ultrasound to help both healthcare professionals and mothers. Medical professionals are able to deliver care wherever it is needed even in the most remote locations, while mothers are able to see clear and high-quality images of their unborn babies. This means that patients can be treated at the point-of-care with a greater chance of success because of faster and more accurate diagnosis and treatment. We pride ourselves on this innovation as we work towards reducing mother and child mortality rates on the continent.
The Philips Mobile Obstetrics Monitoring (MOM) solution, meanwhile, is a scalable telehealth platform that allows midwives to remotely monitor patients from hospitals or home through data collected from physical examinations and then shared to the centralised MOM server. This data can then be used to determine if a pregnancy is high-risk so that immediate care can be provided.
MOM has been used successfully in Indonesia – which, like most African countries, is an emerging market. I personally witnessed its efficacy as the pilot was run during my time as the Head of the Philips consumer business in Indonesia. In this pilot study, detection of very high-risk pregnancies increased threefold and zero maternal deaths were recorded. There was also a 99 percent reduction in anaemia from the first to the third trimester through enhanced patient management. These results are testament to the impactful difference our innovations are making.
It’s clear then that telehealth presents a clear opportunity for Africa, where nearly 700 women die of pregnancy-related causes every day. Research by the WHOhas shown that at least two thirds of mothers and children can be saved with cost-effective interventions and solutions like the Lumify and MOM – making it critical to introduce them to these countries to avoid preventable deaths.
These examples clearly show the immense potential of telehealth to drive widespread access to essential healthcare services – making it critical for healthcare providers to continue to implement these solutions at scale to give citizens across the African continent the healthcare they deserve.
Article by Jasper Westerink, CEO Philips Africa
Amref Health Africa Kenya Partners with Sisu Global Health and Surgipharm to improve access to blood
Nairobi, Kenya, 17 September 2019 – Amref Health Africa in Kenya, Sisu Global Health and Surgipharm have today unveiled a partnership to improve access to blood and safer surgical outcomes during medical missions and emergencies in Kenya.
The partnership is aimed at increasing blood access in all hospitals to reduce internal bleeding-related deaths through the adoption of HemafuseTM, an innovative medical device that allows clinicians to reuse a patient’s own blood gathered from internal bleeding.
This initiative comes in the wake of the recent move by the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) to stop its annual funding of KShs2 billion for blood collection and testing services in Kenya. This development comes at a time when the country is facing a chronic shortage of blood as the collection of blood has been plagued by the lack of funds for screening tools and human resources to collect and store blood.
“Blood access is critical to safe surgery. Standard surgical practices require two units of blood on-hand before surgery commences, but there is a severe shortage of blood in the country. Surgeries may be delayed or not performed due to a lack of blood, resulting in increased illness and death. This partnership will make use of an innovative solution that will ensure that patients with internal bleeding have a chance of survival,” said Amref Health Africa in Kenya’s Country Director, Dr Meshack Ndirangu.
HemafuseTM, a product by Sisu Global Health, can filter and pump blood from an internal haemorrhage into a blood bag, allowing it to be re-transfused to the same patient. The device can also be reused up to 25 times. This provides an alternative to donor blood.
“It is inspiring to see Hemafuse used to save lives. With this partnership with Kenya, we look forward to enabling thousands of more clinicians to save more lives across the country. The work we are doing is incredibly important and we are proud to have such a strong partnership with Amref to provide access to blood across Kenya,” said Sajju Jain, Chief Operating Officer at Sisu Global Health.
Speaking at the event, Mr Rakesh Vinayak, Director-Sales & Marketing at Surgipharm, said that the pharmaceutical industry has a critical role to play in finding effective and sustainable solutions to providing access to today’s most pressing health concerns. “Surgipharm has a highly specialised and experienced management team and our relationships with different players in Kenya’s health sector complements and strengthens our existing skill set in logistics across the country. We are excited about the prospects that this partnership brings.”
Memfys Hospital and GE Healthcare Collaborate to Improve Disease Diagnosis for Nigeria’s South-East Regions
Memfys is the first hospital in South-East Nigeria to install GE Healthcare’s SIGNA™ Explorer 1.5Tesla MRI system
LAGOS, Nigeria, August 29, 2019 – The collaboration will help provide innovative technology to enable early diagnosis and detection of diseases; Memfys is the first hospital in South-East Nigeria to install GE Healthcare’s SIGNA™ Explorer 1.5Tesla MRI system.
GE Healthcare has partnered with Memfys Hospital to provide the SIGNA™ Explorer 1.5Tesla MRI system services and training to advance early diagnosis of diseases. By providing clinicians with detailed information about diseases such as cancer, neurological disorders and heart diseases, the new equipment will help the hospital to deliver high quality medical services and better care to more patients across the region.
As the only dedicated Neurosurgery hospital in South-East Nigeria, Memfys Hospital is serving a population of over 60 Million People. Investing in the latest technologies such as the SIGNA™ Explorer 1.5Tesla MRI system will help improve the hospital’s diagnostic capabilities for early detection of diseases and at the same time keep up with global best practices to provide the very best for the country and West Africa region at large.
“As a leader in the neurosurgical space, we are committed to continue providing high quality patient care using modern, high tech and reliable equipment that meets the recommendation by the World Federation of Neurosurgical Societies (WFNS). Acquisition of the SIGNA™ Explorer is a huge milestone towards this commitment,” said Professor Samuel C. Ohaegbulam, CEO Global Memfys & Co Ltd.
To ensure sustainability of such investments, Memfys hospital is providing training for both young and experienced doctors embarking on a career in Neurosurgery and Spinal surgery. The hospital is accredited by the West African College of Surgeons (WACS) for full training in neurosurgery making it the only private health institution to enjoy this status in all of Africa. To date, Memfys has trained 20 neurosurgeons and about 10 senior residents.
“We are committed to continue collaborating with both private and public partners to co-create solutions that help tackle pressing healthcare challenges for our region such as Noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), as we strive towards Universal Health Coverage. With the SIGNA™ Explorer 1.5Tesla MRI system, the people of South-East Nigeria will not need to leave the region for such specialized services as it has been the practice in the past,” said Eyong Ebai, General Manager for West & Central and French Sub-Sahara Africa Region.
According to WHO’s 2018 report, NCDS including stroke, cardiovascular diseases, cancers, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes are estimated to account for 71% of the 57 million global deaths, while in Nigeria NCDs are estimated to account for 29% of all deaths (2.1M). Early diagnosis of diseases such as cancer improves outcomes by providing care at the earliest possible stage.
Egypt denies postponing official launch of health insurance system
Hala Zayed, Minister of Health Pic: Egypt Today
CAIRO – 29 August 2019: Egypt denied delaying the official launch of the comprehensive health insurance system in Port Said, which is scheduled for the first half of coming Septwmbwe, due to failure of teh pilot phase, according to the cabinet’s media center.
Ministry of Health confirmed that the effective implementation of the system will start in the first half of September, especially after the success of the pilot, the center added in a statement.
Earlier in August, President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi called for implementing the health insurance system, taking into consideration the technical, human and medical sides to ensure the good quality of medical services.
In July, the pilot operation of the comprehensive health insurance system in Port Said governorate started in July.
Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly said earlier in a press conference that the governorate will be the first to benefit from the new system through 11 general and specialized hospitals and 32 healthcare units.