Telehealth: the game-changer for healthcare in Africa
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.
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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
AstraZeneca launches Africa Health Innovation Hub to increase access to healthcare
AstraZeneca, a leading global pharmaceutical company, launched the Africa Health Innovation Hub today. This ground-breaking initiative highlights the company’s commitment to healthcare equity and fostering partnerships with a range of stakeholders, including governments, healthcare societies, academia, healthcare providers and patient advocacy groups, to better improve patient outcomes. Building on AstraZeneca’s work in Africa, the hub aims to use the latest science and technology to improve access to healthcare for patients on the continent.
The Africa Health Innovation Hub is the latest in the global A. Catalyst Network, a connected array of over 20 hubs worldwide. This network seeks to tackle current healthcare challenges through collaborative innovation, promote affordable and equitable healthcare access, and amplify patient-centred innovation through strategic alliances within the healthcare ecosystem.
Last year, AstraZeneca joined the WEF Edison Alliance, a public-private partnership that aims to improve the lives of 1 billion people through digital inclusion by 2025. The partnership reinforces our commitment to harnessing digital innovation to drive inclusion and equity across the healthcare ecosystem, therefore, will also be a strong facilitator of the Africa Hub.
Gagan Singh, Country President, African Cluster, AstraZeneca, stated, “AstraZeneca aims to strengthen and future-proof health systems across the whole patient journey, ensuring everyone has equitable and affordable access to the life-changing healthcare solutions they need, regardless of where they live. The launch of the Africa Health Innovation Hub is a significant step in our goal to unlock digital transformation and innovation in health across the continent, paving the way for patient-centric digital health solutions that leave no one behind. By working with partners across the continent, we are nurturing local talent and making quality health care more accessible for all.”
Partnering to bring our purpose to life
In Africa, two major new partnerships will form the backbone of the Hub in its initial phases:
- In South Africa, AstraZeneca is partnering with MEDSOL AI SOLUTIONS to help promote the use of AI in the detection of disease through a state-of-the-art Wi-Fi ultrasound probe that can detect breast cancer in seconds. The Melusi Breast AI rapid detection app will be rolled out in rural clinics to help in early detection of the disease, supported by a dedicated referral system so that women with positive detection of breast cancer can be offered a quicker turnaround time for therapeutic intervention.
Dr Kathryn Malherbe (PhD), CEO & Founder of MedSol AI Solutions said, “Medsol AI is excited to be leading one of the inaugural projects of the Africa Innovation Hub, with support from AstraZeneca. Breast cancer is a devastating disease, with many women in our communities only able to access late-stage diagnoses. The Melusi Breast AI project will enable us to leverage technology and innovation to improve early diagnostic detection rates and patient outcomes in local clinics, ultimately saving lives.”
- In Kenya, the company is expanding an already successful collaboration with Tricog Health Limited. After a few years of piloting an AI technology that connects ACS patients to health professionals and route them to the appropriate facilities, enabling early cardio-renal complications to be addressed in India, the African hub aims to enhance early diagnosis and treatment of Heart Failure using Tricog’s InstaECG AI tools for rapid diagnosis, reducing mortality rates and improving quality of life.
Dr. Charit Bhograj, CEO & Founder Tricog Health Limited added, “non-communicable diseases, including heart disease, are on the rise in Kenya and across Africa, and we know that the earlier these conditions are diagnosed, the better chance it is for patients to continue to live long healthy lives. By investing in digital health technology, the Africa Health Innovation Hub is enabling the use of advanced AI to screen and diagnose patients remotely, bringing high-quality health tools to people no matter where they live.”
Another partnership initiated last year and will officially form part of the Africa Health Innovation Hub is the Fuel Africa programme, launched by Futurize. This is the largest healthcare entrepreneurship programme on the continent, bringing together the brightest minds across universities in Sub-Saharan Africa to address some of Africa’s most pressing challenges in healthcare. For the second year in a row, AstraZeneca’s A. Catalyst Network partnered with Futurize to reinforce our strong commitment to fostering innovation in the continent by developing local talents.
Official kick off to AstraZeneca’s health innovation hub in Africa
The official launch event – which marked the launch of the hub and the kick off of the Medsol AI partnership – took place at the Daspoort Poli Clinic in Pretoria, South Africa, where healthcare practitioners were able to demonstrate the use of the Melusi Breast AI device in a community clinic setting, which is one of the first points of contact for clinical breast examinations and breast cancer screening for patients.
The Africa Health Innovation Hub will also invest in building local talent, promote policy change for cancer screening, close the gaps in healthcare access and improve the quality of life for patients in the African region, particularly in rural and underserved communities. These objectives are aligned with the four pillars of AstraZeneca’s A. Catalyst Network: Education and Awareness, Early Diagnosis and Referral, Connectivity and Technology, and Data Generation.
aYo Zambia launches Family Cover in response to ‘overwhelming’ demand
aYo Zambia CEO, Andrew Nkolola
microinsurer aYo Zambia has has just launched Family Cover, which allows Zambians to get hospital and life cover for themselves as well as their direct and extended families without filling in a single form. The new product will also see all premiums collected (and claims paid) via the MTN Mobile Money (MoMo) platform. Until now, aYo has offered hospital and life cover to individuals only through two insurance products, ‘Send with Care’ and ‘Recharge with Care’. But a growing market demand for insurance for the whole family prompted the company to create the new Family Cover product, which allows policy holders to add up to seven people, including themselves.
“As of today, we have had over 3.5 million customers purchase cover to protect themselves for hospitalisation in the event of illness or injury, or loss of life,” said aYo Zambia CEO Andrew Nkolola. “But many of our customers have been asking us: ‘How will we safeguard our children and families if something happens to them? We don’t want benefits only when something happens to us.’ We realised it was a huge gap in the market and have responded accordingly.”
As with aYo’s existing products, Family Cover customers must maintain active Mobile Money (MoMo) accounts to pay premiums and claim. This will allow them to insure up to three other family members per benefit, for a total of seven people. Family Cover allows policyholders to add extended family as well as direct relatives between the ages of 1 and 69.
Customers can enrol family members by dialling the USSD code *296* and selecting the Family cover option to enrol and manage cover. As with ‘Send with Care’ and ‘Recharge with Care’, valid Family Cover claims are paid directly to the claimant’s mobile money wallet without any hassles.
aYo was recognised as the Most Innovative Ecommerce Product in Zambia by the Institute of Finance and Economics in October, and followed that up in November with three awards at the Pensions and Insurance Authority Industry awards: Microinsurance product of the year, Best Customer Centric Experience, and Product and Service Innovation of the Year.
“The market perception of insurance in general is changing. Today, every Zambian consumer can purchase insurance on the go, using their mobile phones. Offerings like Family Cover provide a much-needed social safety net that helps vulnerable people and particularly people with low incomes to stay afloat when the unexpected happens,” said Nkolola.
mPharma acquires majority stake in HealthPlus
mPharma, Africa’s leading patient-centered technology-driven healthcare company, has acquired the majority stake in HealthPlus, the leading pharmacy chain in Nigeria. mPharma and the former investor, Alta Semper, have signed an agreement leading to the acquisition of a majority stake in the HealthPlus Group.
According to the Chief Executive Officer and Co-founder of mPharma, Gregory Rockson, the acquisition is in line with the company’s mission to build an Africa that is in good health by delivering life-changing healthcare services and drugs to improve health outcomes for patients. He stated that the acquisition of the HealthPlus Pharmacy chain by mPharma complements mPharma’s deep commitment to increasing patient access to affordable and quality healthcare in Nigeria.
“mPharma is deepening its long-standing commitment to Africa by reimagining primary healthcare in some of the most vulnerable communities on the continent. We continue to transform community pharmacies into primary care centers to provide affordable and accessible healthcare to all patients so they can live not just longer but healthier lives. We are optimistic about the future of healthcare for Nigerians through the acquisition of HealthPlus.”, said Rockson.
In her remarks on the acquisition, Afsane Jetha, Co-founder and CEO at Alta Semper Capital, said: “We are delighted about HealthPlus’ partnership with mPharma. We have a strong conviction in mPharma’s strategy of revolutionizing primary care across Africa and believe mPharma is the ideal steward for HealthPlus’s next chapter of growth. We believe mPharma’s vision is consistent with that of HealthPlus’s shareholders and employees, and we are enthusiastic to support the business through a relationship with mPharma going forward”.
While mPharma plans to continue to keep and strengthen HealthPlus as Nigeria’s leading pharmacy brand in Nigeria, the acquisition will also provide expansion opportunities for mPharma within Nigeria and a platform to expand mPharma’s mutti pharmacy retail footprint across the continent through its fast-growing QualityRx program. Powered by mPharma’s proprietary Bloom software, HealthPlus will provide patients access to affordable primary care services within its pharmacies, in addition to affordable and quality medications it currently retails across 12 states in Nigeria. The HealthPlus pharmacy chain will also launch mutti®, mPharma’s health membership program, which will provide both existing and new customers with discounts, interest-free “heal-now-pay-later” plans, free health screenings, and other primary care services.
By combining HealthPlus pharmacies with mPharma’s growing portfolio of partner mutti pharmacies and GoodHealth shops (PPMVs),mPharma’s network will grow from 224 to over 320 health facilities in Nigeria and will provide care to more than 100,000 Nigerians each month.
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