Africa is Applying Technology to stem the COVID-19 pandemic.

Introduction.

The last year has been wrought with uncertainties across the world stemming from COVID-19 and security challenges in the Northern region of Cameroon. Never has this been more true than in Africa, with underinvestment in the health sector and an ever-growing reliance on foreign financing and loans to fund vital health care services; meanwhile, the last decade has seen a plethora of digital solutions emerge; targeting youths, patients, and civil society. These have contributed to addressing the infrastructural gaps, allowed by years of ill-targeted investments and cash-strapped governments across the continent. There is no shortage of tech solutions that have emerged in the last decade, but a mix of human capital, infrastructure, and logistical challenges have reduced the adoption of advanced technologies across health care in Africa.

These solutions have ranged from advice on home care to the provision of medication for hospitals across different parts of the continent. This article presents a list of such innovations across the health care sector, and while they are judged to be innovative their impact on health outcomes is little known. However, they are expected to create lasting dividends in the lives of citizens across the continent.

Furthermore, they can serve as credible complements to current approaches to health care that prioritize on-demand delivery of health care services as opposed to pre-emptive checks and solutions-oriented approaches to the delivery of health care. Africa’s health care system is severely underinvested, with countries like Cameroon spending between 500–2500 per person. Due to the limits imposed on health care by inadequate financing, huge swathes of the population are unable to access vital medication and treatment. Meanwhile, there are a number of issues equally affecting the delivery and quality of health care across Africa.

For example, Lund et al. (2013) find that Sub-Saharan Africa is burdened with a growing population and poor health care resources. They equally note that transfusion medicine is affected due to a range of factors such as poor sensitization, negative perceptions, and lack of donation points across countries on the continent. Meanwhile, several countries across the continent are equally cash-strapped with the deficits looming around the health and security crisis. This article presents a range of innovations that will improve the quality of health care across the continent, ultimately reduce the number of people who do not have access to credible advice, and enable governments to better monitor health care spending and the delivery of health care.

Thanks to a partnership between the Government of Rwanda and the California-based robotics company Zipline, Inc, Rwanda is the first country in the world to use drone technology to deliver blood supplies and other pharmaceutical products. With public and private partners under the umbrella of the Roll Back Malaria Partnership, the SMS for Life program, led by Novartis, was established to eliminate stockouts of anti-malarial drugs in public health facilities.

Today, around 27,000 government health workers in Uganda use a mobile health system called MTRAC to report on medicine stocks across the country. In Ghana and across three continents, the social enterprise mPedigree uses a simple sticker on the packaging, which, when scratched with a fingernail or coin, reveals a numeric code that can be verified by SMS, providing a direct confirmation of the drug’s authenticity.

COVID-19 equally saw Africa’s ingenuity emerge, with COVID-19 robots treating patients in Ghana. This novel approach was used to reduce the burden on hospital staff and improve the quality of care. This innovative approach has kept the number of deaths low in Rwanda and equally saw them included in travel corridors across Europe. These smart anti-epidemic robots were used at the Gatenga and Kanyinya treatment centers in Kigali. These robots cost about $30,000 which suggests that foreign aid can be directed to addressing Africa’s health care needs whilst allowing an innovative approach in the delivery of health care.

The example above illustrates why the provision of health care can be improved by innovation support by the mechanization of mundane tasks such as temperature checks and self-induced tests. Africa can learn one lesson from Rwanda; Technology and development can serve as credible complements to economic development. Some will argue that Rwanda has a fairly advanced economy that is driven by innovation, with a per capita GDP of $700. However, it is able to afford such innovations while the rest of Africa watches by with significantly higher per capita GDPs. Take Cameroon for example, with a per capita GDP of $1700 and a population of 23 million people its response to COVDI-19 has lackluster with governance issues ever returning to the fore. In other to improve access to health care across the regions, policymakers, citizens and patients should prioritize a digital approach to addressing citizen’s health care needs. There are challenges that emerge against tech-based solutions, but these can be averted if careful planning and delivery are incorporated into future responses.

Conclusion.

COVID-19 has imposed grave constraints on Africa’s healthcare system and while most countries must rely on vaccines from countries outside the continent, this has nonetheless allowed a proliferation of new technologies designed to test, trace ad curb the spread of the virus. It is, now, imperative that countries across Africa continue to employ technology to address healthcare challenges.

I am an economist and contributor to Nkafu policy, a think tank. I cover global economic, fiscal and monetary policy with policy and asset price implications.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store