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ICT in Health: Medical care made more accessible

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Picture Source: samumsf.org

Access to adequate healthcare in Africa is one of the leading social ills that our beautiful continent suffers from.  According to a study done by Deloitte, our continent carries around 71% of the global distribution of infectious diseases. The doctor-to-patient ratios are also quite worrisome. In Nigeria, one of the continent’s leading economies, one doctor can see up to 150 or more patients a day. This is about five times more than the average 30 patients or less a day a doctor is meant to see.

On the upside, Africa is rated as one of the fastest growing economies in the world. The continent offers huge development opportunities for those willing to reach out and grab them.  According to a survey done by Bloomberg; Nigeria is projected to expand 4.9% in 2015 compared to the US which is set to grow by 3.1%. This means that we are definitely doing something right.

 ICT will contribute significantly to the region’s commerce and humanitarian environment. Africa, and more particularly Sub-Saharan Africa; has one of the world’s lowest unique mobile subscriber penetration rates. According to the GSMA 2015 Mobile Economy Report; in 2014 SSA had a penetration of 39% compared to more developed regions such as Europe which had a penetration of 78.9%. These unique subscriber numbers are forecasted to increase to 48.7% in SSA and 82.2% in Europe by 2020. This means that over the next 5 years, region Sub-Saharan Africa will have a relatively healthy mobile subscription growth rate as more developed countries reach saturation.

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Increased unique subscriber numbers means increased new mobile phone users. Increased mobile users means increased infrastructure development for services such as 3G, 4G and Wi-Fi. The rise of low cost handsets in the African market will play a huge part in accelerating subscriber numbers. With our region having a larger lower to middle income population (compared to higher) with relatively limited purchasing power; cost-saving initiatives will definitely be taken advantage of.  Most of these people do not have access to quality medical care because it’s too expensive due to a lack of employment, medical cover, transport or even knowledge. But most will likely be owners of a mobile phone. The growing sophistication in the services that can be made available to mobile users irrespective of the type of phone is simply amazing. The mobile phone has the potential of relieving the health burden that is pressuring our continent. There are countless mobile health business models that can be developed to suit different cases. Innovations such as SurgiLink which involves surgical guidance via mobile phones may prove key in curbing the issue of qualified medical staff shortages for surgeries in the region. This lack of highly skilled surgical personnel often leads to unwarranted mortality rates. SurgiLink serves as a simplified form of telesurgery, according to Microsoft Research. The system combines robotics and videoconferencing that allow skilled surgeons to perform operations remotely. SurgiLink enables skilled surgical personnel to interactively guide non-specialized medical staff to undertake complex procedures in their home theatres.

Building the strength and credibility of these platforms will take more than just the app developers’ involvement.  It will take an integrated approach from government, telecommunication vendors and operators, financial institutions, system integrators, regulators, healthcare industries, media and the greater population. The success of these initiatives will have to be a personal goal for each stakeholder in order for it to work optimally.

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