While much of the African region still lacks access to healthcare services, emerging innovations are revolutionizing the way health care is delivered across the African continent to reach a greater number of people with quality care in a cost-effective way.
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Rising economic growth in African countries and advancements in knowledge and technology are helping to accelerate new approaches and opportunities to improve access to preventive and life-saving healthcare treatments and respond to the shortage of medical professionals, particularly in remote rural areas where care is often most needed.
The International Finance Corporation cites that sub-Saharan Africa makes up 11 percent of the world’s population, yet accounts for 24 percent of the global disease burden in human and financial costs.
Given these dire statistics, innovators are rolling up their sleeves to creatively identify solutions to bolster the speed and delivery of care to meet the growing healthcare demands in their local communities.
Consequently, many are applying private sector approaches to bring modern care to these communities. A major concern for many medical professionals throughout Africa is reaching patients where they are with quality care.
Access Afya is a Kenya-based social enterprise that was recognized by Ashoka Changemakers and General Electric Foundation for their private-sector healthcare delivery approach. In some of the most-impoverished urban communities in Nairobi, Kenya, Access Afya has installed a network of mini-health clinics, also known as “health kiosks,” where a nurse and trained community health worker provide basic healthcare services for a small fee.
By bringing care directly to patients, their approach is lowering the barrier to healthcare services and enabling patients to seek care and treatment early, thereby preventing emergency health situations. And the small fee for healthcare services assists in making health kiosks self-sustaining.
A Gallup poll in 2010 found that nearly 60 percent of the adult population in 17 countries in sub-Saharan Africa has access to mobile phones. Mobile phone usage continues to rise at a rapid pace by 18 percent each year in the region.
Social entrepreneurs and healthcare innovators are increasingly recognizing this trend in mobile phone usage and are leveraging it to transform the existing healthcare delivery system.
Since mobile phones have become a vehicle for millions of people to receive and share information, innovative organizations are using text messages to follow up with patients for ongoing treatment, especially for chronic diseases.
The Internet is also connecting local healthcare professionals in rural areas with specialist doctors in metropolitan areas to pass along critical healthcare information remotely for patients who would typically have to travel great distances for care.
With a shortage of trained medical professionals in many African countries, investing in human capital in the health sector is absolutely essential. Hospitals and healthcare clinics are training nurse practitioners to move beyond their traditional role to deliver basic, quality care and take on some of the medical responsibilities of doctors and community health workers, who, in turn, are filling in for the nurses’ role.
Universities and colleges must also design their curriculums and standards to effectively prepare healthcare professionals for the needs of communities where they will serve.
Innovations in the healthcare sector abound throughout Africa. The organization that I lead, The Africa-America Institute, will hold a panel discussion on “Emerging Opportunities: Why the Healthcare Sector Should Be on Your Career Radar” at our Second Annual Talent Summit on Saturday, May 3, at New York City’s Baruch College.
This session will explore recent trends and will spark discussions on how to best leverage skills to be a part of the innovation and change that is shaping the future of Africa’s healthcare sector.