This year’s World Health Day highlights the importance of ‘building a fairer, healthier world’. Looking at sub-Saharan Africa, still a lot of work is to be done in the region. The Gini index, indicating income inequality, is one of the highest in the world and less than half of Africa’s population receives the healthcare they need. Nevertheless, there is reason for optimism. True progress can be achieved – when we put data and technology at the heart of healthcare systems.
Using technology in healthcare is particularly vital in sub-Saharan Africa, where it has not only become critical to address the impact of COVID-19 but also to commit resources to other healthcare needs. Mobile technology adoption has experienced an exponential growth in the region: about 10% of GDP in transactions occur via mobile payments compared to 2% in the US and Europe. This has enabled millions of low-income households to have access to basic financial services. The rise of mobile technology also allows for innovations in healthcare: telehealth services, the collection of real-time data on healthcare delivery, utilization and cost of care, bringing transparency and efficiency to the system.
PharmAccess partners with the private sector to help bring the benefits of technology to the health sector. A mobile health payment platform like M-TIBA accelerates people’s access to health insurance. Without access to insurance patients face high out of pocket costs and delay doctor visits. An astonishing 50% of sub-Saharan Africa’s health expenditure is still financed by out-of-pocket payments. Through mobile phones, people can now enroll into health insurance at much lower costs. Mobile tools also help segment the populations so that governments can target insurance premium subsidy to those who need them most.
The quality standards and improvement methodology of SafeCare, is using apps and platforms to collect data and to inform healthcare providers, patients, insurers and governments on the status and steps towards better quality. Currently, facilities that participate in SafeCare in sub-Saharan Africa receive about 5 million patient visits monthly. Healthcare providers also use the information generated from their interactions with patients to measure and improve upon individual health outcomes and to build trust, whilst ensuring privacy and confidentiality.
To improve healthcare quality, healthcare facilities need access to working capital. Medical Credit Fund (MCF) works with small and medium health facilities to sustainably grow their business and improve their quality of care. Its digital loans allow health entrepreneurs, including many women, to receive loans within 24 hours, without stringent requirements and collateral. During the COVID-19 pandemic, this financial support has been more critical than ever. To date, MCF has disbursed more than $100 million to strengthen healthcare providers and their supply chain.
There are still multiple challenges to overcome such as issues around integration, data security, data quality, regulation, and equitable access. But the widespread deployment of digital tools during the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted what that change may be – inclusive health markets underpinned by data and technology.
Recognizing that for everything we do, we depend on our relations with local and international partners, governments, and funders. Partners that also embrace technology and the use of data as a means to increase equality. Our joint success to build a ‘fairer, healthier world’ remains fully dependent on the quality of these partnerships. Thank you for your trust.
Monique Dolfing-Vogelenzang, CEO of PharmAccess
This letter is also published on our Medium account.