Digital health technology could improve quality, patient safety in Africa

Despite high death rates due to injury, less than half of the Africans have access to modern health facilities,

According to experts, a majority of these cases could be avoidable through the implementation of digital health technology, with out-of-hospital care and monitoring forecasted to grow globally by 30 per cent to cross the $25 billion mark in 2019.

Ryan Sanderson, Exhibition Director of Africa Health Exhibition and Conferences adds that the demands on healthcare systems in Africa have suddenly increased as non-communicable diseases, such as cancer, hypertension, diabetes and heart disease are on the rise. “We are, however, seeing that technology is transforming how healthcare is delivered on the continent, giving more people in remote areas there and around the world access to better care.”

A World Health Organisation report published in 2018 stated that within Africa, about 15% of all hospital activity and expenditure was a direct result of adverse events and that the costs of treating safety failures amount to trillions of dollars each year. The investments needed to improve patient safety pale in comparison to the costs of harm.

While this remains a challenge for many developing nations on the continent, countries like Rwanda are embracing technology as a way to improve healthcare for its citizens, especially those living in remote and rural areas.

Sanderson says that Rwanda is a pioneer in digital health in Africa. “Their successes include the use of an artificial intelligence-based algorithm in mobile phones to get a diagnosis, doctors using telemedicine to consult, blood delivery by medical drones, and a central electronic health records system ensuring data is collected accurately. The insights that can be learnt from projects like this are critical in order to achieve Universal Healthcare (UHC).”

“Africa needs to embrace digital technology on every level,” adds Sanderson. “Artificial intelligence, telemedicine, drones, health apps, and mobile solutions will bring healthcare to a whole new level. Smart health needs to be recognized as one of the pillars of a country’s information and communication technology (ICT) policy. ICT is really something that governments need to prioritise for development as a whole.”

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