Africa: Innovations in healthcare

Africa: Innovations in healthcare

Innovation in healthcare is another trend to watch out for in Africa. The continent is seeing innovation in terms of mobile health solutions in particular. This is not just in terms of the solutions themselves but how they are being financed on a continent where funds are short – and getting angel and venture capital funding can be a daunting prospect.

As a result some interesting crowdfunding initiatives focused on healthcare have come to the fore. For example, StartSomeGood Africa is a crowd-funding enterprise that focuses on a number of sectors, which includes health and wellness in Africa. Projects can crowdfund through the website.

Projects currently crowdfunding on the website include the Kenyan initiative, Penda Health, which offers sexual and reproductive healthcare to women from lower-income households “using innovative delivery models to provide to hard-to-reach populations”.

Other crowdfunding initiatives on the site include one for a health clinic in Sierra Leone and another for an HIV support project in Nigeria.

Kangu is another crowdsourcing platform, this time New York-based, that focuses on pregnant women and advice on safe birth as well as care for newly born babies.

The website Samahope similarly crowdsources to focus on healthcare issues such as brain injuries and cleft palates. It serves a number of regions around the world, including Africa. The founder, Leila Jaha, has made a name for herself through her work and was selected as Entrepreneur of the Year by the Social Enterprise Alliance

One of the most exciting areas for health innovation in Africa is mHealth. The term mHealth was first coined by Professor Robert Istepanian of Kingston University, UK, and is defined as the use of “emerging mobile communications and network technologies for healthcare”.

mHealth entails deploying mobile communication tools, not just limited to mobile phones but also personal digital assistants and patient monitoring devices, to improve access to healthcare support – whether in terms of medicine, medical care, health-related services or information.

mHealth platforms operate on the premise that technology integration with the health sector has the potential to improve health outcomes. A number of African countries – Nigeria, South Africa and Ethiopia – are proving to be pioneers in mHealth.

This has been made possible through a convergence of improving mobile penetration, cheaper mobile handsets and constant innovation and creativity when it comes to mobile app creation in Africa. According to a report by mHealth Alliance, Africa now hosts more mHealth initiatives than any other region in the world. Most of these seek to tackle problems around neonatal health and communicable diseases.

One mHealth invention that stands out for Africa is Sproxil and Novartis’ SMS for Life mobile solution, which aims to eliminate counterfeit and out of date medication and improve access to anti-malarial medication across Africa. SMS for Life was launched in Nigeria and has since spread to six countries.

In essence, it is an SMS-based Mobile Product Authentication service; medicine packets have a unique code, which a customer can scratch off to reveal before buying. The customer can then text the number to the service for free to check immediately whether the medicine is counterfeit or not. The service is also available through a mobile app or through a global freephone number.

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