Will the Digital Health Revolution Save African Lives?
SEVICS has great interests in promoting innovative tech initiatives that provide solutions to predominant health issues in West Africa. Digital Health initiatives are now very common in more developed countries and are quite efficient. Can they help us achieve “health for all“? Digital Health, as defined by the WHO, is the application of organized knowledge and skills in the form of devices, medicines, vaccines, procedures and systems developed to solve a health problem and improve quality of lives. In more recent times, health technology may broadly include medical devices, information technology, biotech, and healthcare services.
Digital Health exist as small portable devices like smartphones, touchscreens, tablets, laptops, digital ink, voice and face recognition and more. other variants of digital health are electronic health records (EUR), health information exchange (HIE), Nationwide Health Information Network (NwHIN), personal health records (PHRs), patient portals, nanomedicine, genome-based personalized medicine, Geographical Positioning System (GPS), radio frequency identification (RFID), telemedicine, clinical decision support (CDS), mobile home health care, cloud computing and 3D printing.
Digital Health is more personalized and beneficial to health
Digital Health is a field that is continuously evolving. Note that it is also called health tech, (short for technology). Hottopics.ht describes it as the use of technology (databases, applications, mobiles, wearables) to improve the delivery, payment, and/or consumption of care, with the ability to increase the development and commercialization of medicinal products. It has developed to become personalized following what could be a “me and my health” system. This differs from the more traditional healthcare systems where the doctor knows all about your health. You rely solely on doctor’s instructions. Digital Health still relies on doctor’s instruction but he has some help. Digital Health increases the doctor’s capacity to respond to more patients in the least possible time. In some cases, digital health can be used to self-diagnose. Saving time spent in hospitals and queuing to see a doctor. Amazing right?
Digital Health includes a wide range of healthcare products which are applied to treat medical conditions affecting humans. They have various advantages including:
- improving quality of healthcare delivered through earlier diagnosis,
- less invasive treatment options and reductions in hospital stays and rehabilitation times and;
- real-time health monitoring
- reduces the cost of healthcare.
Digital Health presents a system that is patient/receiver centered. Patients know exactly where to find the care they need. The doctors are a lot more certain that their interventions are effective. This describes all the solutions to the health gaps in Sub-Saharan Africa. Does this imply that we are now closer than ever to achieving health for all?
To be honest, health for all in the Sub-Saharan African context, still a bit distant…
There is no gainsaying that health for all is a possible feat to achieve in Sub-Saharan Africa. Overwhelming statistics show large numbers of rural communities still do not have access to quality health. This is largely due to a number of factors including:
• Inadequate number of healthcare providers for teeming populations.
• Poor levels of provision of healthcare resources.
• Poor level of utilization of available healthcare resources.
• Inadequate information on health services.
• The role of quacks.
There are multifaceted issues bordering the healthcare delivery system in West Africa. Yet some West African countries rank high in being reproductive with Nigeria leading the lines. Nigeria is poised to become the 3rd largest country in the world based on population after China and India by the year 2050. Large populations juxtaposed against inadequate health provisions and we can only raise more questions. How will the health needs of growing populations be met? What of the rural settlers? Poor people? Hard to reach population?
New way of thoughts? Digital Health the answer?
A holistic turnaround is desperately needed by health delivery system in Subsaharan Africa. But! Is it likely to come from repeating known interventions? I don’t think so. To achieve positive change, we must apply new, progressive approaches to expand healthcare provision, access and utilization. The most developed countries are able to distinguish themselves from the rest through the quality of health tech and innovations they generate. The capacity not only to build new things but to keep on recreating and re-inventing themselves is what set them aside. If we apply and sustain such capacities, we can finally achieve health for all. The biggest problem is not really capacity. Africa has a lot of capacity in healthcare delivery. Can we just blame brain drain as the real problem? So. How can we sustain capacity to make digital health work for us. In the presence of adequate digital health, even brain drain will have minimal impact.
How Affordable is Digital Health?
West Africans are still in a phase of their development where the most basic needs of the human person such as food, clean water and shelter are predominantly deficient. This situation begs the critical question; How can the girl Living below poverty lines access information or technology that will improve her health?
In Nigeria, mobile phones are the single most common piece of technology available to everyone with some individuals owning more than one (1). The utility potential of mobile phones can only be limited by one’s imagination. One of the greatest features of modern phones beside internet connectivity is its ability to accept application softwares, commonly called apps. The capacity of apps to bring great utilities that a phone did not originally have, improves and customizes the experience of each and every person using it.
The mobile phone might be the only hope for people in the less developed climes. Are there great apps available which will be instrumental to improve healthcare delivery in West Africa? While it is important to note this need, it imperative to know the effectiveness of such apps.
Have you come across any digital health devices in your locality? Do you currently use one? Share with us in the comments section.
Best wishes!by : Michael Ukwuma