Covid-19 fast-tracks digital health programs

ePharmacy: Heath innovations using the digital realm can be the solution to reduce costs and improve the access and quality of healthcare in Africa: File photo

With almost everything slowly becoming digitised, heath innovations using the digital realm can be the solution to reduce costs and improve the access and quality of healthcare in Africa.

Speaking during the Africa Health Business Symposium (AHBS) webinar held earlier this month, BroadReach’s chief executive officer (CEO), Chris LeGrand, said that by using digital technologies, they have been able to screen millions of South Africans for Covid-19 in the past few months.

“We have been on the ground trying to address Covid-19, we have launched a series of technology that’s solutions-based, and over the past months we have been able to screen more than two-million South Africans, going door-to-door,” explains LeGrand.

Tech and universal healthcare coverage

“We have also been training government healthcare workers to go door-to-door with this technology on their mobile cellphones, which allows them to screen and quickly access people who need to go for further treatment, as managing a health system in the rapidly evolving pandemic requires real-time information and decision support,” he adds.

Digital health, which includes digital care programs, is the convergence of digital technologies with health, healthcare, living, and society to enhance the efficiency of healthcare delivery and make medicine more personalised and precise.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) encourages the use of digital technologies to improve health services, saying that “harnessing the power of the digital technologies is essential for achieving universal health coverage.”

“Ultimately digital technologies are not ends in themselves, they are tools to promote health, keep the world safe, and serve the vulnerable,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general.

Dr Nicole Spieker, director of East Africa PharmAccess Group agrees with the WHO standpoint, noting that that the only way Africa can achieve the universal health coverage is through digital health technologies.

“I believe that we can only achieve universal health coverage with the use of digital technology. Not knowing what digitalisation is are one of the reasons why universal health care coverage is struggling to reach the scale which is needed so much. The Ebola crisis in Africa lasted longer because there was a complete lack of data and information, so we really need to have real time information of what is going on around,” says Spieker.

Digital inequalities

Dr Ademola Olajide, United Nations Fund for Population (UNFPA), country representative in Kenya said that lack of access to digital technologies has already created inequalities in terms of socio-economic and education sectors and warned that countries not to be left out of digital health systems.

“Children with better access to the internet are continuing with their education and that digital divide, which we seem to have ignored years ago, seems to be creating a much greater socio-economic and education divide. How do we, as health sector actors, move to ensure that when we emerge from this and make sure the digital technology does not re-enforce existing inequalities?”

Olajide went on to explain how Covid-19 has overturned assumptions about Africa’s healthcare systems.

“We have had discussions that certain countries who have weak health system will bare a bigger brunt of the Covid-19 pandemic but that has been a challenge, because those countries we have assumed to have stronger health systems seem to be taking a very fatal blow,” he noted.

“It it requires us to interrogate our definition of health, to really remember that health is a product that we produce by actions we take at individual level, household level, community level and ultimately, by large as society and in hospitals.”

Liberation and healthcare

Olajide stated that it is time that African countries liberate digital health.

“Strong hospitals systems alone will not deliver the health outcomes we seek. We have seen basic health decisions, basic key health actions that individuals and communities need to take to become politicized,” he explained.

“How can we liberate digital health to the extent that individuals can access the information they need to be able to take decisions that improves their health outcomes and those of society, without having to go through political leaders whose actions are motivated purely by reasons other than health?” -Health-e News.

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