The African continent has seen tremendous progress over the last 15-20 years, but the continent still faces many issues and challenges. Mobile technology has become the de facto technology for the continent, with over 930 million mobile phones expected to populate the continent by 2020, but can this technology and continued innovation be the saving grace that the continent is looking for?

In my first article I looked at how mobile technology and innovation have aided the areas of agriculture and education.  In this article I am looking at how technology and innovation can help in the area of healthcare.


Growth of mHealth in Africa

Sub-Sahara Africa has the highest disease rates in the world.  Approximately 12% of the total population worldwide lives in Africa, yet Africa have the highest disease burden worldwide according to the World Health Organization.  Africa bears 71% of the global distribution of communicable diseases, with issues ranging from HIV/Aids, Ebola, malaria, to a crumbling healthcare infrastructure.

These challenges provide remarkable opportunities for mobile technology to be the driver of innovation in healthcare, through mobile health, or mHealth.   I will look at some of the ways mobile technology can be used and is being used to progress healthcare across the continent:

Checking for Ebola at the airport in Nigeria
  • Real-time disease surveillance and data monitoring: One of the great success stories of mobile technology being used to help fight the spread of infectious disease took place in Nigeria in 2014 during the Ebola epidemic.  Nigeria, the most populous country on the African continent, looked on with concern and worry as neighbors such as Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia saw the Ebola disease spread like wildfire.  Many were concerned that Lagos, a city of close to 20 million people, would be a prime target for the next deadly outbreak, but the Nigerian government to its credit deployed Nigerian health workers with mobile phones loaded with mHealth apps soon after the first cases were recorded. This led to a significant reduction in the reporting time of Ebola cases from 12 hours to six hours, the app was able to track reports in real time, and Nigerian contact tracers used mobile phones equipped with GPS tracking to visit individuals suspected of being exposed to the virus. This allowed authorities to map the tracers’ visits with GPS coordinates and helped stop the spread of the disease
  • Education and disease prevention: Many people in rural areas have limited access to quality healthcare and lack the access to proper education and information that can help them identify different ailments and diseases, and also help with disease prevention. Using SMS messages to send health information to intended recipients on a variety of subjects, such as test methods, treatments, health service availability, can now provide them with this access to information and education.
  • Counterfeit drug prevention and drug supply: Mobile phones can be used to detect fake or stolen drugs.  In many African countries, the spread of fake or stolen drugs is a real risk. The World Health Organization estimates 30% of drugs in emerging markets are fake and may be harmful to consumers.  Mobile technology can be used to identify these fake drugs and help reduce the risks.  Mobile phones can also be used to monitor the level of vaccine supplies in rural areas and make sure vaccines are available when most needed.

In my next article I will look at the growing interest of Silicon Valley and the increase of foreign direct investment in Africa.  Please feel free to contact me or to share your thoughts.