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TMCNet:  Innovation Africa - Innovations in healthcare [African Business]

[July 06, 2014]

Innovation Africa - Innovations in healthcare [African Business]

(African Business Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) 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 Yorkbased, 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 antimalarial 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.

The technology is a great anti-criminal initiative as reports of counterfeit drugs can be traced to reveal if there is a surge of fake drugs in the market and ultimately discover their source - or even uncover when stolen drugs have surfaced onto the market.

The breakthrough is a very important development in the world of African health. In Africa, over 100,000 deaths are linked to the counterfeit drug trade each year; while malaria causes almost a million fatalities among under-fives in Africa.

Sproxil's initiative continues to expand. "Since our 2010 pilot in Nigeria to protect diabetes patients from buying fake treatments, we have expanded to five operations across three continents to protect products in over 10 industries, including pharmaceuticals, beauty and personal care, and automotive parts," says the company. "Our award-winning solution, Mobile Product Authentication, has been recognised globally for protecting a vast array of important and lifesaving drugs such as malaria treatments. To date, we have processed the most product verifications for a solution of our kind: we boast over 8.5m consumer engagements." Other interesting inventions are finding their way onto the African market. A new mHealth app allows Kenyans to check whether a doctor or clinic is genuine via SMS. The user receives a list of approved medics and clinics in proximity to himself or herself.

There have been a number of other SMS-based mHealth projects in Kenya, Mozambique and Uganda, which focus, for example, on reminding patients to take their medication and keep their medical appointments. This has been especially useful for HIV patients. Studies show that such SMS services have made patients more likely to follow anti-retroviral therapy.

Basic health infrastructure still needed mHealth innovation faces a number of basic challenges in Africa, however. One is the severe shortage of health services and the paucity of drug supplies - so the basic health infrastructure which many mHealth initiatives need to get a head start, simply does not exist.

It is therefore important to stress that although mHealth is a way to get around lack of physical health services in some contexts, it can by no means function as a replacement for basic health infrastructure. Experts also point out that mHealth initiatives can be quite fragmented, and there is an urgent need to coordinate and share best practices among providers.

E-health, which basically means the deployment of health-related services through internet-based communication, is also finding a foothold in Africa.

One of the countries leading the way is Rwanda and a pioneering project unfolding in the country is TRACnet, an internet-based app that reveals data and government HIV indicators directly extrapolated from the field - information includes drug supply levels and patient load and the status of all of the HIV programmes in the country.

Meanwhile, in Uganda mTrack enables medical supplies in clinics across the country to be tracked in real time. In Zambia, SmartCare, an electronic health record system, has recently taken off. An eHealth programme in Mali, IKON, has also made headlines. Through the IKON app, rural clinics can forward scans and X-rays to specialists via the internet so that the specialists can then offer a diagnosis and advise on treatment.

The Mobile Product Authentication service breakthrough is a very important development in the world of African health 4G Trailblazing in the 4G realm One of the new areas in which Africa is unexpectedly leading the way is in long-term evolution (LTE) technology - more commonly known as 4G. Currently, Ethio Telecom is involved in a push to roll out LTE in the capital Addis Ababa along with High Speed Packet Access in all of Ethiopia's main urban centres. "In this regard, Ethio Telecom recently launched a programme called Together towards Quality, which include 26 concrete projects aimed at accelerating actions to correct current situations and put the company in a situation to deliver its promise," said Ethio Telecom CEO Bruno Duthoit.

"We have also developed new products and services to offer to enterprise customers such as the mobile machine to machine business solution and 3G VPN and upcoming products such as hybrid business mobile, GPRS and prepaid roaming services," adds Duthoit.

Meanwhile, Rwanda will be putting 4G broadband services into action by August 2014, according to the ICT Minister Jean Philbert Nsengimana, Not long ago, the country signed a $140m deal with Korea Telecom; the latter will roll out 4G Internet services to 95% of the population in three years. It is a considerable task - although the country has around 5,000km of fibre-optic cable, only 8.3% of Rwandans have internet connection. In May, Algeria also launched North Africa's first commercial 4G network. Zohra Derdouri, Algeria's Minister of Post and Information Technology and Communication, said at the launch of the new service that it showed "the willingness of the government to include Algeria in a dynamic construction of the information society and digital economy". It is estimated that the tender for the 4G equipment had a value of around €40m.

(c) 2014 IC Publications Provided by SyndiGate Media Inc. (Syndigate.info).

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