Use of technologies could enhance healthcare in Africa if they are adopted . Over the past few decades, there have been major advancements in technology in the world. Many sectors have adopted these developments to improve output and efficiency. Such sectors include education, administration and entertainment. The healthcare sector has not been left behind. Adoption of the use the use of technologies in the healthcare in Africa will improve efficiency and quality of care. It will help reduce healthcare costs and ultimately improve quality of life.
Various technologies have been adopted in Africa and beyond. Electronic health records are fast becoming a mainstay in hospital management. These are digital versions of patient paper charts. They contain patient information such as history, diagnoses, medications, laboratory results among others. They allow instant access to authorized users. These would improve and enhance patient care coordination and outcomes. They also achieve cost saving and are good for the environment because they are paperless. An example is the Health Management Information System used to run hospitals in Kenya that have adopted the Universal Healthcare Program.
Telemedicine involves caring for patients remotely. Modern technology allows for consultation via phone calls and video conferencing. Adoption of this would significantly reduce healthcare service costs. It would also increase access to specialists. In rural Africa, access to specialized medical care is limited. Telemedicine would allow for referral to specialists regardless of the physical location of both the patient and doctor. This eliminates the need for transport to urban settings for treatment. The concept of telemedicine is very applicable in cases of pandemics like Covid-19 where there is restricted movement as it allows for care to continue regardless. There is however the need to involve local authorities to put systems in place for training of healthcare workers as well as patients.
Wearable device use has become widespread. They monitor physical activity as well as physiological and biochemical parameters. Parameters include heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, blood oxygen saturation, electrical activity of the heart among others. The most common device is a watch linked to a smartphone that collects and stores this information. Spikes in blood pressure can sometimes go undetected until its too late. This results in outcomes like stroke. The device would however be able to pick that up and alert the patient to seek care at the nearest health facility. This would prevent morbidity and mortality. It would therefore be useful in monitoring vulnerable patients and encourage involvement of patients in their own healthcare.
Nanotechnology could also be adopted to improve healthcare. It is the control of matter at atomic and molecular levels. An example is biosensors which are used in diagnostics. These are used to identify bio-markers which lead to disease. These would be very useful in early detection and management of diseases like cancer. In drug delivery, nanoparticles carrying drugs are introduced into the body and deliver drugs to targeted tissues. This would go a long way in improving efficacy and reducing side effects of these drugs. Nanotechnology could have a strong impact on medicine and healthcare. Therefore, African countries should invest largely in its development.
3D printing is another technology that could benefit healthcare. 3D printing allows for customization in the creation of prosthetic and orthopedic devices. It could be used to make plates and implants. The advantage of these prints is they are sterilisable and can be created for various complexities. It is also appropriate for low volume production, which results in low cost. Due to customization, human error can be eliminated and waste reduced.
Drones have been widely used in healthcare. They could be used for a variety of tasks. These include delivery of laboratory samples, supplies, medication, vaccines and blood products. They could also be used in search and rescue operations. An example of a country pioneering in this field in Africa is Rwanda, where drones are used to deliver blood to women with postpartum bleeding, which can result in mortality. They also deliver vaccines like anti-rabies in emergency situations. Drones could be used to carry medicines to hard to reach areas, for routine or emergency responses. They are also environmentally friendly and autonomous. They are effective for use in crisis or disaster-stricken areas.
Overall, technology has a lot of pros. These can be summarized into reduced healthcare costs and waste, improving efficiency and healthcare delivery, improving quality of life, decreasing preventable deaths among others. Therefore, investment in technology is mandatory for a forward trajectory of healthcare in Africa.
This article is written by Sharon Omondi, a Pharmacist working in Kenya. Also an aspiring health writer and advocate. She is passionate about advancement of healthcare in Africa.