Understanding healthtech growth in Africa

Understanding healthtech growth in Africa

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The world might be facing uncertainties when it comes to the global economy due to the effects of the novel COVID-19, but the global pandemic has offered us a glimpse into the future where the adoption of technology will reign supreme in virtually every sector, including emerging markets.
The world has witnessed an unprecedented rise in the number of technological innovations in so short a time during these few months that the virus has held sway, compared to the previous few years. But one notable technological innovation that the world is focusing on now is health technology.

Pharmaceutical companies are now focused on creating vaccines that will effectively eradicate COVID-19 but some companies are taking it further than just creating vaccines. They are thinking of making the human body to self-create vaccines! Imagine a future where human beings will be resistant to all viruses. That will be cool. Right?

Technology is evolving at a very fast pace, and do you know that genetic tests can reveal the day that you will die, naturally? Scary. Right? Scientist have found out that the DNA that makes up the genes is encapsulated in 46 chromosomes and is referred to as the telomere (a stretch of DNA that protects the chromosome).

The telomeres are long at birth and are shortened every time a cell divides. After sometimes, very little telomere remains and the cell becomes inactive or dies, ending the human life. The advancement of health tech research makes it possible to identify the telomere in humans and further researches have already started. These researches are attempted at ensuring that telomere can be duplicated, which will elongate man’s life!

Investors are now more interested in health-tech and innovations that border on advanced biotech, safety apparatus that will repel viruses, disaster tracking apps, etc. As at now, they are the “hottest” ventures anyone can think of going into. While the rest of the world has seen a spike in health technological advancement, Africa too has not been left out, as some start-ups are already finding solutions, albeit slowly, to some health problems besetting the African continent. Before the advancement of modern health technology, Africa has suffered from high mortality rate usually as a result of poor hygiene and tropical diseases.

Accurate genetic information that will further aid the growth of genetic research to accurately analyse diseases peculiar to Africans are not in existence. But thanks to start-ups such as 54Gene, this narrative is changing, as the start-up is building the world’s largest pan-African biobank.

The deployment and growth of digital health in Africa seems to be facing lots of challenges, ranging from poor coordination of health projects, lack of awareness and knowledge about digital health, poor infrastructure that borders around poor power supply, poor internet connectivity, lack of coordination in operations of the numerous digital health systems and weak health systems, especially.

This, however, seems to be changing as technological advancement has given people the leverage to venture more into the healthcare industry, and these set of people are pushing aggressively for the growth of healthtech in Africa. The evolution of artificial intelligence and quantum computing has ensured that big data can be effectively harnessed to give details and more accurate information about some particular diseases, which will lead to proper treatment.

There should now be a paradigm shift, and the present ways in which African health workers go about treating their patients are out of date. The earlier they realise that in order to stay relevant in the years to come, they need to embrace health technology in total, the better for everyone. They will slowly lose their jobs as their methods will be referred to as archaic.

Globally, start-ups are already using AI to analyse and diagnose images taken from MRI, X-ray, CT scans, etc. to get accurate reports about a particular ailment which will further assist medical doctors to administer proper treatment. It is just a matter of time before AI and quantum computing will assist medical researchers to achieve breakthroughs in how to cure diseases, such as cancer, AIDS, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer and diabetes.

Before the COVID-19 became a global phenomenon, a Canadian start-up, known as BlueDot, had spotted the virus in the city of Wuhan, China, with the aid of AI and it was first referred to as a case of abnormal pneumonia. For the past 10 years, the health care ecosystem has been growing and have witnessed advanced medical methods, such as the electronic health record, mHealth, telemedicine/telehealth, portal technology, self-service kiosks, remote monitoring tools, sensors and wearable technology, Wireless communication, real-time locating services and pharmacogenomics/genome sequencing.

These methods are already in full throttle in the western world; however, the African continent has not been able to fully exploit technology to boost its health sector like the western world has. Lassa fever is still killing thousands of people in Nigeria and not much attention and resources are committed, or channelled towards it for accurate research and final cure. Africa needs to wake up and start investing massively in digital technology.

Chukwuemeka Fred Agbata Jnr. is the founder of CFAmedia.ng, a business and innovation platform.

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