Mobile technology to address Africa's healthcare challenges
Healthcare is a massive challenge in Africa. The continent is home to 15% of the world’s population and 24% of global disease burden, and yet has only 3% of the world’s healthcare workforce at its disposal. Demands on the healthcare systems are also increasing as non-communicable diseases, such as cancer, hypertension, diabetes and heart disease, are on the rise. Healthcare providers across the continent will therefore need to prioritise early detection and treatment. As such, the continent is reliant on the public and private sectors to work together to develop solutions to tackle healthcare delivery challenges.
According to the World Bank, 50% of economic growth differential between developing and developed nations can be attributed to poor health. The healthier the citizens of a country, the more effective the workforce and the greater the potential for economic growth. To achieve this and leapfrog the global healthcare systems it is critical that technology and innovative solutions be implemented across the continent.
“We have developed a range of healthcare solutions using mobile technology specifically to bridge the gap,” says Vuyani Jarana Chief Officer at Vodacom Business. “These solutions are up and running in locations across Africa and will help overcome healthcare challenges facing the continent.”
A shortage of doctors and nurses is one challenge. As such, the continent relies heavily on Community Health Workers (CHWs) to provide healthcare services at people’s homes. One of the biggest challenges facing the CHWs has been correctly capturing patient information to create and file accurate records.
“We have developed a mobile application that runs on an Android smartphone. This allows CHWs to capture patient information, making service records more accurate and easily accessible,” says Jarana. This mobile application which is currently in use in Kenya and South Africa, has increased the quality and productivity of CHW programmes significantly, leading to better healthcare service delivery to citizens.
A similar solution has been rolled out in Mozambique to increase the efficacy of immunisation programmes. Caregivers and children are registered by a nurse using a mobile application. They then receive an SMS reminder when they are due to go back to the clinic for an immunisation visit. Should a child fall behind on their immunisation schedule, the system flags the case allowing the clinics to intervene and ensure the child receives all scheduled vaccinations.
The supply and effective stock keeping of essential medicines is another challenge facing the continent. “We have implemented a stock visibility solution in more than 5 000 primary health care clinics in Tanzania and more than 1 200 clinics in South Africa,” says Jarana.
A mobile phone, running a native application linked to a specific primary health care facility, is issued to each clinic. A weekly SMS is sent to remind the clinic management to submit an update on stock levels, expiry dates, wastage and stock received. The information is uploaded via the GSM network into a Vodacom data centre, allowing the system to flag low stock levels and stock-outages and inform management to supply the stock needed. The system not only tracks information about quantity and location, but also urgency. This informs the supply chain to deliver the correct quantities of essential medicines to the right facilities on time.
Jarana believes that technology will be a key driver in helping the continent to overcome some of its healthcare challenges. “Mobile technology can address some of the biggest healthcare challenges in Africa. Our job is to continue to develop relevant and innovative solutions that will meet the continent’s growing need for quality healthcare services,” he concludes.
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