Most developing countries, most of which are found in Africa, are faced with numerous challenges in provision of quality health to its people. The capacity of hospitals are not only insufficient, the few facilities available lack critical resources in terms of personnel and equipment.
The arrival of Covid-19 has placed the severest of strains on the already fragile health systems. There are real concerns that the hospitals may be overrun if the cases of Covid-19 continue to rise.
However, as the developing countries, including Kenya, seek to find solutions to the pandemic menace, and other set of debilitating health challenges, there is hope on the horizon, according to a new survey by GSMA.
The report says digital technologies are promising to swing the health pendulum in favour of developing countries, helping them to surmount seemingly intractable hurdles in the sector.
The new innovations, GSMA says, are helping African countries not only in fighting the current pandemic, but will play a significant role going forward when dealing with any infectious disease that may emerge going forward.
These new technologies are largely using data to monitor how diseases spread, helping in prevention and health promotion, diagnosis as well as in treatment and social control. These are essential in the prevailing perilous times of coronavirus.
Kenya and South Africa, the GSMA report notes, are on the forefront in adoption of innovative solutions that are helping to transform the face of healthcare in a continent beset by rampant economic hardships that are taking their toll on all sectors of the society.
The survey, ‘Digital Health: A health system strengthening tool for developing countries,’ which was released in June, cites Kenya as one of the progressive nations in uptake of e-health. The country is taking advantage of its growing internet penetration through mobile phones to come up with more cost-effective solutions to leapfrog the developed nations and provide quality and affordable services.
Among myriad other benefits, going digital is helping to ease congestion in hospitals by virtually dealing with less critical diseases, giving these health centres and personnel ample time and space to handle patients who need more critical care. Technology is also helping to push costs down, a significant achievement as it makes millions of households with constrained incomes to access better health and live quality lives.
A host of digital platforms have been designed in Kenya to help deal with the menace of infectious diseases. These ingenious platforms are already playing a critical role in mitigating the spread and impact of Covid-19. The innovations are also a pointer that with innovation, many of the setbacks bedeviling healthcare can be deal with.
Kenya’s Health Check platform enables travellers to report their symptoms through automated calls with an IVR system. Health agencies can in real-time monitor the symptoms and wellbeing of individuals who have been exposed to the disease.
Another innovation known as Flare brings together ambulances, both private and public, under one platform. This makes it easy for those who need the service to access them urgently. Ambulance services are critical in efforts to curb Covid-19 spread. The system also maps out available resources at hospitals, including intensive care units (ICUs) and high dependency units (HDUs).
Safiri Smart, also a Kenyan invention, uses USSD to alert Safaricom subscribers of infectious diseases via mobile phones. The system can provide messaging service to an estimated 33 million subscribers.
In Mozambique, Pensa mHealth platform is available on all mobile operator networks through USSD and online. The free service disseminates health information to the public. The information available is on causes and ways to prevent the transmission of Covid-19. The platform has the backing of the Ministry of Health.
In South Africa, HealthAlert disseminates accurate and timely information to the public on the pandemic. The digital platform comprises a help desk with an automated response and provides real-time data insights that are adopted in formulating policies spearheaded by the National Department of Health.
Also in South Africa, Broadreach has joined hands with the Mpumalanga Department of Health to set up a Covid-19 community screening mobile app via its Vantage platform. Thousands of community healthcare workers are being deployed throughout the province of 4.5 million to control the pandemic through mass screening.
Vodacom has joined initiatives to counter the pandemic. The telco has launched an online platform that encompasses a self-screening risk assessment tool and virtual healthcare consultations to foster testing procedures, referrals and advice.
The service, which is a partnership with Discovery Group, is free of charge to the public and can be accessed on any web interface or mobile phone. Vodacom customers can get additional information and do a self-assessment via USSD and consultations with a doctor can be conducted through video, audio calls or text.
Cutting-edge technologies like artificial intelligence, Big Data, and Blockchain are being used to spot infectious disease outbreaks. Start‑up BlueDot predicted the Covid-19 outbreak at the end of 2019 and issued a warning to its clients on 31 December 2019, ahead of the WHO on 9 January 2020.
Similarly, AI can be used to track and predict how the pandemic will spread over time. Algorithms trained to predict the seasonal flu are now being retrained on new data obtained from the pandemic.