The Epicenter of Digital Health Innovation: Sub-Saharan Africa
Can young African entrepreneurs substitute public health institutions on the African continent?
After two years of the Covid-19 pandemic, the World Health Summit took place in Berlin again and for the first time in cooperation with the World Health Organization. The urgency of discussing global health, investments in R&D, and long-term cooperation is more critical than ever before with a multitude of global crises facing humankind. In consequence innovative solutions must not only be considered but advanced to ensure a healthy future.
Many private companies and start-ups are complementing and assisting public health infrastructure. Especially on the African continent, the connection of technology to health is quickly building and leapfrogging ahead of global standards. With the importance of technology growing, Global Perspectives Initiative invited four successful start-ups from the continent to present their work and enter a discussion with key stakeholders. With Dr Borna Nyaoke-Anoke from Zuri Health, Dan Shoukimas from mPharma, Dr John Mark Bwanika from Rocket Health, and Emilian Popa from Ilara Health many questions and answers were raised.
Access to health has a variety of challenges, especially physical access and infrastructure, affordability, and quality. Most visits to a clinic or medical professional in African countries, including the travel, costs and waiting for hours to see a medical professional, can be quickly answered digitally. This includes questions on healthy heart rate or which family planning methods are available. This is where digital solutions can come in – companies such as Zuri Health or Rocket Health fill those gaps through online consultation with trained and licensed medical professionals, using SMS, WhatsApp and video chats. Through easing access to pharmaceuticals and ensuring affordability of diagnostics, companies such as mPharma and Ilara Health are combating the problems of self-medication and expired or fake pharmaceuticals and easing the financing to therapeutic devices.
It is important to note that innovation is not only technology – however, as was discussed by participants, innovation is in the business models and how patients are addressed. As Bill Rodriguez, CEO of FIND, noted during the dinner: what these companies are doing is “transforming for hundreds of millions of people”.
As a follow-up to our dinner dialogue and to create more space for exchange, GPI hosted an informal get together at the Q-Club. Especially in focus were collaboration beyond sectors, which technologies can be of mutual benefit and how to envision cooperation in the current political climate.
- Health tech companies act within the national regulations, operating like any other clinic, however, save many patients the long and expensive trip to a primary healthcare clinic. For more intricate medical services, on-site treatment is still needed.
- The companies have developed innovative business models, earning revenue through the large number of patients and clients. This offers great prospective for long-term and sustainable investment, as patient and client numbers are continuously growing.
- Through using digital solutions in health, vast amounts of (new) data are generated and stored, which can be used in a variety of ways, including early detection of diseases or patient behavior. This can improve healthcare and health infrastructure.
- Digitalization in Europe is lacking. Europe and the rest of the world can learn from the innovations from Africa. The innovative solutions found in health tech in African companies can be replicated in different contexts and are thus relevant and competitive on a global level.
- There are many barriers on the ground. In many contexts there is a fragmented market, a lack of well trained and full-time available qualified staff and challenging state regulations. More educational opportunities, specialized know-how, funding, full-time positions for medical personal und support for technical problems are needed.
- International development partners need to work to remove barriers for scaling up, including trade agreements and regional integration.
- Private sector investment in global health is necessary!
Dr John Mark Bwanika, Co-Founder and COO, Rocket Health
Dr Borna Nyaoke-Anoke, Board of Directors, Zuri Health
Daniel Shoukimas, Co-Founder and CPO, mPharma
Emilian Popa, Co-Founder and CEO, Ilara Health
Dr Ricardo Baptista Leite, President, UNITE
Sebastian Gaiser, Senior Director Global Public Health Access Policy, Johnson & Johnson
Dr Stefan Germann, CEO, Fondation Botnar
Dominico Giani, President, Eni Foundation
Prof Dr Heyo K. Kroemer, CEO, Charité Berlin
Vanina Laurent Ledru, Director General, Foundation S – The Sanofi Collective
Prof Dr Veronika von Messling, Director-General for Life Sciences, Federal Ministry of Education and Research Germany (BMBF)
Cheryl Moore, Director of Research Programme, Wellcome Trust
Sarah Nam, Head of Global Google Health Strategy, Google
Prof Dr Axel R. Pries, President, World Health Summit
Felicitas Riedl, Director of the Innovation and Competitiveness Department, European Investment Bank
Bill Rodriguez, CEO, FIND
Elhadj As Sy, Chair, Kofi Annan Foundation
Dr Ingrid Wünning-Tschol, Senior Vice President, Robert Bosch Foundation
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