Telemedicine programmes expected to be given momentum by renewed focus on primary healthcare in South Africa
A renewed focus on primary healthcare in South Africa is expected to give momentum to telemedicine programmes, as the Government rolls out the National Health Insurance (NHI) scheme. Uptake of telemedicine solutions, throughout the continent, is on the rise due to infrastructural developments and the need to extend services to under-served rural areas.
New analysis from Frost & Sullivan, Telemedicine Markets in Sub-Saharan Africa, covering South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, Mali and Cameroon, finds that the greatest challenge in implementing telemedicine solutions is inadequate connectivity in rural areas.
“Government recognition of the meaningful role that telemedicine can play in strengthening primary care, will be key to its development,” notes Frost & Sullivan Information & Communication Technologies Industry Analyst Ishe Zingoni. “As the South African Government revamps the country’s healthcare system, strengthening the primary health system has been identified as a key priority to ensure the successful implementation of the NHI.”
Of particular concern is the current shortage of doctors in rural areas, a situation that has affected the delivery of effective primary healthcare. Telemedicine can potentially alleviate this challenge, by making use of cost-effective telecommunications technologies, to deliver healthcare services to patients in rural areas.
Telecommunication issues, such as lack of connectivity and high costs are, however, affecting the deployment of telemedicine in rural areas. Providing broadband access in rural areas remains a challenge and transmission costs are high. Innovative partnerships between government, telecom companies and other participants can, however, be harnessed to create cost-effective telemedicine solutions.
“Despite the tremendous progress witnessed in the field of telecommunications, particularly from an infrastructural perspective, bandwidth costs remain high in South Africa,” explains Zingoni. “The problem is that most of the infrastructure rolled out in recent years has been in metropolitan areas, leaving rural areas with little or no connectivity.”
Public private partnerships (PPPs) have been identified as a potential solution to this problem.
“The government could possibly partner with telecom companies to provide cost-effective healthcare solutions,” concludes Zingoni. “For example, telecom operators could provide dedicated bandwidth for use in telemedicine projects.”