Health sector seen as disruptive technology's next big impact area

Featured on Business Daily on Thursday, March 2, 2017

Kenya’s healthcare industry is the next area where disruptive technologies can have the biggest impact, say industry experts.

Participants at the Innovating Economists Summit held in Nairobi last month tipped the healthcare sector as the next area where disruptive technologies will have the biggest impact, after the finance industry.

The role of disruptive technologies will be in filling the gap that has been created by low infrastructure development over the last few decades.

The sector is already embracing disruptive technologies driven by the uptake of mobile money transfer services and the increased penetration of smartphones.

Safaricom, the region’s biggest telecom, partnered with PharmAccess to roll out the M-Tiba platform that acts as a health wallet which channels funds meant for health services directly to recipients, allowing for effective tracking and monitoring of use of funds.

Remote areas

“If you cannot build a road then you can use a drone to deliver emergency blood to a mother who urgently needs it,” said Amit Thakker, the chairman of East Africa Healthcare Federation.

Dr Thakker added that telemedicine, eHealth and m-Health are examples of disruptive technologies that can effectively and affordably deliver healthcare services to the most remote areas of the continent.

Other applications in this sphere include MedAfrica and Sema Doc. Med Africa is a mobile phone application that makes it possible for consumers to access medical information and locate reputable doctors and hospitals, while Sema Doc is a subscription service that allows one to save for emergencies through mobile money transfer services.

Regionally, Rwanda is proving to be an early adopter of these technologies after the government announced that it was partnering with Zipline, a US-based startup, to deliver medicines to hospitals.

Health professionals said that investment in technology should be included in government healthcare budgets.

"Governments must use a lot more innovation in the planning and delivery of healthcare services," said Ahmed Ogwell Ouma, World Health Organisation regional director for prevention of Non-Communicable Diseases.

In Kenya, the Treasury has proposed to allocate Sh60 billion in this fiscal year to healthcare. The summit brought together policy-makers, regulators, health care practitioners, donors, businesses, NGOs, and patient groups who discussed how to meet increased healthcare demands across Africa and overcome challenges facing the continent.

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