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
Airbus and Koniku launch a disruptive biotechnology solutions for aviation security operations
Koniku Inc.-Airbus Aircraft cabin (credit: Airbus)
Toulouse – Airbus and Koniku Inc. have made a significant step forward in the co-development of a solution for aircraft and airport security operations by extending research activities to include biological hazard detection capabilities, as well as chemical and explosive threats.
The disruptive biotechnology solution, which was originally focused on the contactless and automated detection, tracking and location of chemicals and explosives on-board aircraft and in airports, is now being adapted in light of the COVID-19 crisis to include the identification of biological hazards.
Based on the power of odor detection and quantification found in nature, the technical solution, developed to meet the rigorous operational regulatory requirements of aircraft and airport security operations, uses genetically engineered odorant receptors that produce an alarm signal when they come into contact with the molecular compounds of the hazard or threat that they have been programmed to detect.
Airbus and Koniku Inc. entered into a cooperation agreement in 2017, leveraging Airbus’ expertise in sensor integration and knowledge of ground and on-board security operations within the aviation and defense industries, as well as Koniku’s biotechnology know-how for automated and scalable volatile organic compound detection (via their Konikore™ platform).
With in-situ testing planned for Q4 2020, Airbus is demonstrating its ability to accelerate traditional research cycles in a real-time environment in order to develop and bring to market a game-changing, end-to-end, security solution at convincing scale and speed, thereby contributing to the continuous improvement of security in the air transport ecosystem, while increasing operational efficiency and improving passenger experience.
Low risk of COVID-19 in SA water systems
There is no evidence that COVID-19 will contaminate water supplies, but the pandemic has highlighted water challenges putting communities’ health at risk, say industry stakeholders.
Panelists participating in a high-level webinar hosted by Messe Muenchen South Africa, organiser of IFAT Africa, said last week that although international scientists were using COVID-19 RNA in sewage to track the prevalence of the virus in communities, there was no evidence that COVID-19 could pose a risk via drinking water. However, the pandemic was highlighting the health risks up to 30% of the South African population faces through lack of access to piped water.
The virus does not survive waste-water treatment plant processing or the treatment for reuse, the panellists said.
Hennie Pretorius, Industry Manager Water and Waste Water at Endress + Hauser, said: “There have been concerns that this virus could enter the water supply, but the good news is that with proper disinfection of waste water, we should not see the viruses entering rivers, and proper filtration should eliminate any risk in the drinking water supply.”
“There is no evidence of COVID-19 entering water supply systems at this stage, but even if it did, the technology exists to remove such viruses,” said Henk Smit, MD of Vovani Water Products.
Panellists said the pandemic had highlighted the health risks facing those South Africans who do not have access to treated, piped water, however. Taking tanks of water to underserved areas raised water quality concerns, while shared taps increased communities’ risk of contracting the virus, they noted.
Achim Wurster, Chairman of the Water Institute of South Africa (WISA) said: “There could be some risks in the standpipes in poorer communities, where people congregate and touch the tap – and this is where education comes in. But we are not aware of cases of viable virus coming through treatment processes and infecting people.”
Moderator Benoit Le Roy, CEO of Enviro One, noted: “This crisis is highlighting our deficiencies. Nearly half the water we harvest, treat and convey at great cost is wasted, and we are running out of surface water and ground water. So, some of the obvious measures are to reduce, reuse and augment. But we need the political will, and the financial and risk models to implement that. I believe there is sufficient funding, technology, implementation capability and pedigree to give us water security, so that in times like this, when we have a catastrophe on our hands, we don’t exacerbate the health risks the underserved 30% of the population is exposed to.”
The panellists said that effective implementation of the Department of Water and Sanitation’s Water and Sanitation Master Plan for national water security required stepped up effort and improved public-private collaboration.
“This pandemic has brought our inefficiencies to light, and it will hopefully create more opportunities for government and private sector to sit together and find solutions, drive certain projects and get things done faster,” said Smit.
South Africa’s water supply and treatment challenges, solutions and opportunities will come under discussion at IFAT Africa, the leading trade fair for water, sewage, refuse and recycling, at Gallagher Estate in Johannesburg from July 13 to 15, 2021.
To watch the full webinar discussion, click here
Envisionit Deep AI launches AI solution to help Radiologists and Doctors fight Coronavirus
Dr. Jaishree Naidoo, CEO and Co-Founder of Envisionit Deep AI
Established in 2019, Envisionit Deep AI is an innovative medical technology company that utilises AI to streamline and improve medical imaging diagnosis for radiologists. They are guided by their vision to positively impact the lives of people in Africa by using revolutionary technology to democratise access to healthcare for all.
Envisionit Deep AI has just launched an online version of RADIFY, their AI solution for radiologists and medical doctors. RADIFY, in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, has been offered free of charge to support hospitals, doctors and any other public and private organisation using X-ray in the identification and treatment of COVID-19 pneumonia.
RADIFY was primarily developed to enable radiologists to diagnose more images, more consistently and in less time – whilst prioritising care for people who need it most. One of the biggest challenges facing primary healthcare in South Africa, even before COVID-19, was that they were under resourced and over used. The first line of investigation for pneumonia, and likewise COVID pneumonia, is an X-ray to pick up suspicious features that can be prioritised for further testing.
The volume of X-rays, CT scans and MRI’s generated have always outpaced the number of qualified Radiologists on hand to diagnose and generate patient reporting, creating bottlenecks in the system, often unintentionally leaving urgent cases in the queue for hours on end. RADIFY is capable of labelling 20 different pathologies on X-rays at a rate of 2,000 x-rays per minute, which is 2,000 times faster than a human being!
The chest X-Ray is the first line of investigation for COVID pneumonia because it’s the most readily available, quick and cost-effective imaging tool for the diagnosis of pneumonia – the number one killer of patients with COVID-19. With the impending demand for testing, known shortage of specialists and the costs associated, it’s vital for healthcare to streamline this process. RADIFY can assist healthcare facilities to detect possible COVID-19 pneumonia cases in order of high, intermediate and low probability.
Dr. Jaishree Naidoo, CEO and Co-Founder: Paediatric radiologist who has served the state health care system for 20 years. Pioneered the paediatric radiology subspecialty after becoming the first South African qualified paediatric radiologist in 2010. Previously, head of paediatric radiology at Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg academic hospital and at Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital where she commissioned the first paediatric radiology department.
She has chaired the South African Society of Paediatric Imaging (SASPI), the African Society of Paediatric Imaging (AfSPI), serves on the Executive Council of the World Federation of Paediatric Imaging (WFPI) and African Society of Radiology (ASR)
To test the platform, visit https://radify.ai.
Visit: Envisionit Deep AI