East Africa

Innovative e-health solutions improving healthcare in Africa

matibabu-matiscopeAcross Africa innovative companies are springing up, leveraging technology to improve healthcare provision on the continent.  Given the high number of rural inhabitants, limited healthcare facilities and infrastructure challenges faced in Africa, the environment is ripe for a boom in e-health solutions – Gabriella Mulligan

A number of self-testing solutions have emerged across Africa, notably Atomo Diagnostics has launched home-testing devices for both HIV and malaria.

The AtomoRapid HIV test kit is an all-in-one stand-alone device, which aims to reduce the high potential for misdiagnosis associated with other home-testing kits, which often require multiple pieces of equipment and need training to properly administer.

Following the launch of the HIV test, a similar home testing device for malaria was launched.

“Malaria is as much of a threat to the well being of Africans as HIV is, so we wanted to ensure that we were also able to utilise the next-generation AtomoRapid solution to aid in the fight against malaria,” said John Kelly, chief executive officer (CEO) and founder of Atomo Diagnostics.

In Uganda another mobile app is also helping to fight malaria. Matibabu is a mobile app that is able to detect malaria causing parasites, one of Africa’s biggest killers. It eliminates the need to prick a patient and draw blood for the test. And you have to wait for a while before you get your results.

Online doctor-patient communications
The Folup online platform and mobile app – which launched in South Africa and has 30,000 users to date – allows healthcare professionals and patients to interact digitally, and in doing so, improve the quality of care patients receive. Patients can upload information between consultations, allowing practitioners to better monitor their behaviours and health.

“The vision behind our technology is to help patients understand their health better, get better faster, connect with other patients, share experiences, and to help doctors track and monitor them better. Mobile technology removes obstacles such as geographic distances and time barriers. Doctors can monitor constantly (remotely) and not periodically,” Simon Spurr, CEO of Folup, told AppsAfrica. Similarly in Nigeria Find-A-Med, a crowd sourced location based platform shows people the closest hospitals, pharmacies, dental and other medical facilities around.

According to Spurr, healthcare faces particular challenges in Africa, with the limited infrastructure and healthcare facilities available.  However, he notes, most African families have access to a mobile phone; making mobile a key enabler of improved healthcare.

“Hardware is becoming cheaper and more readily available. Connectivity through network operators is constantly improving. Mobile phones are the delivery channel for a number of services in Africa, and will become more and more important in the future.Technology, particularly mobile, has to be the next great ‘enabler’ in healthcare. Folup’s technology has the potential fundamentally to alter the economics of patient care,” Spurr said.

Maternal, infant healthcare
The mHealth Tanzania “Healthy Pregnancy, Healthy Baby” services uses free text messages in Swahili to communicate with pregnant women, mothers with newborns up to 16 weeks old, and their supporters.

Subscribers register for the text messaging service by indicating the woman’s current week or month of pregnancy (or the age of the newborn baby).

“The objective of the messaging service is to promote healthy pregnancy and early childhood care behaviors. It also aims to encourage end users to seek quality healthcare services. In addition, the service seeks to assist health facilities and health care professionals in the dissemination of information typically shared during antenatal care visits,” mHealth told AppsAfrica.

In addition to increasing rates of antenatal care, the service is intended to improve HIV/AIDS care during and following pregnancy, such as by increasing rates of HIV/AIDS testing in pregnancy, enabling decreased rates of mother to child transmission, and increasing care of newborns born to HIV/AIDS positive women.

 mHealth said mobile has a real and useful role to play in disemminating information and reaching out to those living in rural areas. “Mobile phones have become an incredibly useful tool for the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare in Tanzania. About 90 percent of the adult population indicates having access to mobile phones,” mHealth said.

“There remains a lack of collective community knowledge for safe and healthy pregnancy and 75 percent of the Tanzanian population lives in rural areas, often far from well-equipped health facilities with trained personnel. This broad portion of the population therefore has limited access to face-to-face care regarding healthy pregnancies.”

Other initiatives have also been launched hoping to improve antenatal care. In Nigeria Airtel and Grameen Foundation have launched mobile health services to reduce infant and maternal mortality rates in Nigeria. In Uganda a start-up called WinSenga created a low-cost mobile phone-based antenatal diagnosis kit that captures foetal heartbeat sounds. Diagnoses are then transmitted to the mother via SMS.

The diagnosis kit contains an implement with a highly sensitive microphone inside, which is placed on the mother’s abdomen.  The microphone is connected to an app that runs on the mobile phone, which analyzes the sounds that have been picked up by the system. 

In Nigeria Airtel and Grameen Foundation have launched mobile health services to reduce infant and maternal mortality rates in Nigeria.

Africans are utilising mobile and technology to make relevant health care solutions saving millions of Africans along the way.

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