MFineMany people in India, especially low-income citizens, are subjected to low-quality primary and hospital care. Several challenges stand in the way of quality healthcare in India. Although India has eradicated polio, decreased tropical disease-based epidemics and gained more control over HIV, the country still struggles to maintain “accessibility, affordability and quality” in regard to healthcare. MFine, a health technology AI startup, aims to relieve these issues by providing instant access to quality medical care through a virtual platform offering medical consultations and connected care programs.

What MFine Provides

Founded in 2017, MFine was initially developed by Ashutosh Lawania and Prasad Kompalli. MFine, India’s leading digital health startup, has grown to consist of more than 4,000 doctors, including the country’s best doctors from 600 reputable hospitals. MFine’s platform includes teleconsultations with doctors on a variety of chronic illnesses including diabetes, arthritis and viral infections.

Through its mobile app, MFine provides the user with services such as “diagnostics, health checks, radiology” and an online pharmacy. The year 2020 has presented MFine with a unique opportunity to help millions of people access quality healthcare services during the COVID-19 pandemic. With the enforcement of lockdown policies and social distancing, digital healthcare in India has become all the more crucial, making MFine all the more relevant.

How MFine Aids Healthcare in India

Healthcare in India is defined by two different sectors: the private and public systems. In the public sector of government facilities, Indians have free access to outpatient and inpatient care. However, this system receives very little funding, resulting in shortages in personnel and medical supplies. For this reason, many people look to the private sector for care, however, the private sector requires out-of-pocket payments, which is a challenge for low-income citizens.

In addition to the challenges India already faces, the country is also battling the COVID-19 pandemic. The COVID-19 virus has spread to Indian villages where quality healthcare is scarce. The Washington Post reported in May 2021 that, in the village of Banail, more than 20 people have died from COVID-19 within two weeks. This tragedy, however, is not just limited to Banail. More than 65% of people live in the rural outskirts of India. These areas managed to avoid the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, but unfortunately, villages are now also facing rising COVID-19 infections.

MFine’s Benefits

During unprecedented times, MFine has several benefits in the healthcare arena:

  • Cost-effective and high-quality healthcare services
  • On-demand access to outstanding healthcare services
  • Teleconsultations with doctors on chronic health conditions
  • Easy access to diagnostic services, health checks and an online pharmacy

MFine recently raised $16 million in funding and achieved tenfold growth due to the increasing popularity of telemedicine in India in 2020. Advances in technology are important for improving healthcare in India. Especially during a pandemic, digital health is a top priority. Globally, telemedicine was the top-funded category in digital health in 2020. With support and funding, digital companies such as MFine can deliver AI-driven, easy access healthcare across India. In a time when disease is rampant and rural villages cannot easily access the healthcare needed, digital healthcare is a saving grace.

Addison Franklin
Photo: Flickr

International Telehealth CollaborationsDuring and prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, physicians used telehealth technologies to share knowledge, experience and provide technical assistance. International telehealth collaborations have proved particularly beneficial to low-income countries where healthcare workers often lack the resources of their peers in higher-income nations. One recent example of a telehealth collaboration took place when British physicians offered up virtual services to assist India’s overworked healthcare staff. Elsewhere, international telehealth collaborations have increased the quality of care in low-income countries.

Collaboration During COVID-19

Presently, international telehealth collaboration is underway between British and Indian physicians. On May 6, 2021, India reported the highest daily average of COVID-19 cases in the world. As the country’s doctors work tirelessly to care for patients, the British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (BAPIO) has sought to lend a helping hand. Yet, instead of traveling to the afflicted country, the BAPIO has reached out to Indian peers via the internet.

More than 250 physicians partnered with BAPIO are providing assistance to junior doctors in India by way of video calls. BAPIO’s physicians tackled a surge of cases earlier on in the pandemic and are using the experience to advise Indian doctors during this time of increased strain. Virtual conferencing tools provide a quick way to share information in the chaotic environment of India’s ongoing health crisis. Indian physicians have also been taking advantage of BAPIO’s resources by sending digital medical documents for medical professionals in Britain to review. In this case, telehealth is used to facilitate on-the-spot medical assistance during immediate health crises, but examples of international telehealth collaboration between high- and low-income nations can be found well before the COVID-19 pandemic started.

Collaboration Before the Pandemic

By creating links between medical professionals in high- and low-income nations, telehealth has proven an invaluable tool for strengthening healthcare institutions lacking access to adequate resources. One of the early successes in fully digitized cooperation between high- and low-income healthcare institutions is that of the Swinfen Charitable Trust. In 1998, the United Kingdom-based trust was established in order to fund a communications network that would link healthcare professionals across the globe.

The network, which is still in operation, allows medical professionals in resource-scarce healthcare systems to email questions to affiliated physicians in better-equipped healthcare systems. The physician best qualified to respond will then do so within 48 hours. Though not particularly high-tech, this rudimentary telehealth network has nevertheless been a valuable resource for medical professionals in low-income parts of the world. Since the establishment of the Swinfen Charitable Trust, the scope and quality of such international collaboration programs have only increased.

The University of Virginia (UVA) maintains numerous collaborative telehealth programs with healthcare systems in low-income countries across the globe. One program connects medical experts at UVA with teams at both the National University of Rwanda and Ethiopia’s Jimma University Hospital. As part of the program, participants discuss surgical and anesthesiological cases over the internet. The programs do far more than answer a few questions though. For underdeveloped healthcare systems, connections with resource-rich nations can improve the overall quality of care.

The Value of Collaboration

Healthcare quality suffers in low-income countries, such as those in sub-Saharan Africa, where per-person spending on healthcare is only a fraction of that in higher-income nations. Polling in the region shows that sub-Saharan Africa’s population has the lowest rate of satisfaction with healthcare out of any global region. Only 43% of those surveyed were satisfied with the healthcare in their area. Furthermore, the region suffers from numerous health crises including maternal mortality and the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

In areas where financial limitations clearly impact healthcare resources, international telehealth collaborations can provide a low-cost solution to some of the deficiencies of underfunded healthcare systems. In many cases, international telehealth collaborations have facilitated technical training for healthcare professionals, provided logistical support for the expansion of healthcare infrastructure and created research opportunities.

University Collaboration

International telehealth collaboration programs such as that undertaken by the UVA in Tanzania have successfully changed the way that healthcare is administered to low-income communities. The UVA connected a gyne-oncological expert with teams at Tanzania’s Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Center in an effort that educated local medical personnel on women’s health and led to the development of breast cancer testing infrastructure. The UVA is not the only university working on collaborative telehealth projects. A survey of four African universities identified a total of 129 inter-institutional healthcare programs in the universities alone. The sheer number of these programs suggests the value to both the participating medical professionals and the supported communities.

With the increased availability of advanced communication technologies, the ability to establish and maintain international telehealth collaboration is more possible now than ever before. Virtual spaces have provided medical professionals with platforms that can be used for immediate consultation or long-term development. No matter how the technology is used, it is undoubtedly creating connections that are beneficial to communities around the globe.

Joseph Cavanagh
Photo: Flickr

Healthcare for Disabled PopulationsWorldwide, estimates have determined that more than 1 billion individuals live with some form of disability. In developing countries, access to healthcare is difficult enough with rural areas being far from main health centers and low socioeconomic status preventing optimal diagnosis and treatment. For disabled populations, low mobility leads to transportation difficulty, creating an additional barrier that compromises health and access to the nearest healthcare providers. Established in 1998, the Swinfen Charitable Trust (SCT) is a United Kingdom-based nonprofit organization that focuses on providing healthcare for disabled patients in developing countries through increased access to telehealth.

Disability as a Public Health Issue

Although 15% of the world lives with a form of disability, every person experiences varying limitations and healthcare needs. Article 25 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) states that those living with disabilities must receive the highest former of care without discrimination. Despite some countries upholding Article 25, many developing countries cannot provide the proper care for disabled individuals.

Beyond discrimination experienced in the health sector, individuals with disabilities face various barriers to healthcare. To begin, they typically encounter prohibitive costs for health services and transportation since a disability can create the need for a specially adapted vehicle in order to travel to the nearest healthcare professional. Estimates have stated that more than half of people experiencing a disability are unable to cover the costs they incur in healthcare, compared to approximately a third of people for those who are able-bodied. Also, physical barriers prevent disabled people from being able to access certain buildings and essential medical appointments. Inaccessible medical equipment, poor signage and inadequate bathroom facilities all comprise potential barriers. For example, medical professionals can often deny disabled women breast and cervical screening since the tables are not adjustable to one’s height and mammography equipment cannot accommodate women who are unable to stand.

The Swinfen Charitable Trust’s Mission

The Swinfen Charitable Trust (SCT) focuses on the disabled population of the developing world. SCT creates telemedicine links between healthcare centers in the developing world and medical professionals globally, who provide complementary diagnosis and treatment services. SCT represents the longest operating telemedicine nonprofit in existence. To date, there are 366 referring hospitals and more than 700 specialists providing their expertise to disabled people in developing countries free of charge. People can download the app called SCT Telemedicine on mobile phones and SCT has established telemedical links in 78 countries.

SCT raises money that goes toward improving the telemedicine experience and accessibility for disabled patients in developing countries. To begin, financial contributions provide round-the-clock system operators who have the task of analyzing and allocating new cases to specialists. Also, the money raised grants on-site support to partners for telemedical coverage implementation in local communities. This is especially crucial in remote areas of the developing world. Finally, any additional funds are allocated to expanding care to new countries or villages that are struggling to deliver adequate healthcare for disabled populations.

Improving the Lives of the Vulnerable

With a rising technologically dependent world, the Swinfen Charitable Trust is attempting to bridge the gap between poverty and healthcare access in developing countries, particularly for vulnerable populations. By establishing the means for disabled populations to access telemedicine, the disabled population can overcome healthcare barriers and improve their quality of life and life expectancy significantly.

– Sarah Frances
Photo: Flickr

Telemedicine Clinics in GuatemalaNew telemedicine clinics in Guatemala are providing vital resources to women and children living in remote areas with limited access to healthcare specialists. This advancement in healthcare technology increases Guatemala’s healthcare accessibility and follows a trend of a worldwide increase in telemedicine services.

Guatemala’s New Telemedicine Clinics

Guatemala’s Ministry of Public Health and Social Assistance (MSPAS), in conjunction with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and the World Health Organization, launched four new telemedicine clinics in Guatemala in December 2020.

The clinics were designed to improve accessibility to doctors and specialists for citizens living in rural areas, where unstable or lengthy travel can deter patients from getting the care they need. Lack of staff is another barrier telemedicine hopes to overcome. Special attention will be given to issues of child malnutrition and maternal health.

The funding of the program was made possible through financial assistance from the Government of Sweden and the European Union. aimed at increasing healthcare access in rural areas across the world.

Guatemala’s State of Healthcare

Roughly 80% of Guatemala’s doctors are located within metropolitan areas, leaving scarce availability for those living in rural areas. Issues of nutrition and maternal healthcare are special targets for the new program due to the high rates of child malnutrition and maternal mortality in Guatemala.

Guatemala’s child malnutrition rates are some of the highest in all of Central America and disproportionately affect its indigenous communities. Throughout the country, 46.5% of children under 5 are stunted due to malnutrition.

Maternal death rates are high among women in Guatemala but the country has seen a slow and steady decline in maternal mortality over the last two decades. The most recently reported maternal death rate is 95 per 100,000 births.

Guatemala does have a promising antenatal care rate, with 86% of women receiving at least four antenatal care visits during their pregnancies. By increasing the access to doctors through telemedicine clinics, doctors can better diagnose issues arising during pregnancy and prepare for possible birth difficulties that could result in maternal death.

Guatemala’s COVID-19 rates have also impacted the ability of patients to seek healthcare. The threat of the virus makes it difficult for those traveling to seek medical treatment due to the risk of contracting COVID-19.

Trends in Worldwide Telemedicine

The world has seen a rise of telemedicine clinics as the pandemic creates safety concerns regarding in-person visits with doctors. Doctors are now reaching rural communities that previously had little opportunity to access specialized medicine. Telemedicine is an important advancement toward accessible healthcare in rural areas. While the telemedicine clinics in Guatemala are limited in numbers, they set an important example of how technology can be utilized to adapt during a health crisis and reach patients in inaccessible areas.

June Noyes
Photo: Flickr

Healthcare in Germany
Only months before the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the COVID-19 outbreak a global pandemic, Germany motioned to reconstruct its national healthcare system, starting with the Digital Healthcare Act. Passed in Sep. 2019, tasks that once required an in-person visit to a physician’s office can now occur online. Options available to patients and doctors through telehealth include:

  1. Manage prescriptions through smartphone apps.
  2. Report and monitor conditions remotely, such as blood sugar.
  3. Arrange consultations and appointments online, as well as attend over video calls.
  4. Collect data electronically, increasing accessibility for healthcare professionals and researchers.
  5. Provide medics specialized in emergency telemedicine to reduce mortality rates in areas that lack access to medical resources.

Maintaining a Digital Healthcare System

Through government support, healthcare in Germany has successfully transitioned to a digital format. The government dedicates €200 million per year for the development of medical technology. Additionally, healthcare providers have received encouragement to comply with the national system, the Telematics Infrastructure. Physicians who do not offer virtual options receive a charge of a 2.5% fee. The charge ensures that providers are staying up-to-date with emerging technology and meeting the national standards for healthcare. Despite the complications which accompany telemedicine, to guarantee care is available for everyone, the Digital Healthcare act covers all fees incurred virtually under insurance.

How Telehealth Benefits Impoverished Populations

The benefits of digital healthcare in Germany differ depending on the unique needs of each individual. Groups who benefit the most from digital healthcare include but are not limited to:

  1. Individuals over the age of 60.
  2. Low-income individuals.
  3. Families affected by catastrophic spending.
  4. Individuals lacking health insurance.

Catastrophic spending occurs when families must pay out of pocket for emergency medical services, often leaving them in debt. Low-income individuals as well as those without insurance are most likely to experience negative effects from catastrophic spending. Although it only affects a small percentage of the population, catastrophic spending to cover medical expenditures is very much a marginalized issue, as two out of three households who catastrophic spending effects are already in poverty.

Telehealth benefits impoverished families because virtual healthcare comes with a smaller price tag than many in-person services. Insurance plans place a cap on the number of inpatient services a patient may receive before an increase in pricing. However, there is currently no cap on outpatient visits, such as telehealth calls, which still provide a medical service but do not require a hospital visit.

Healthcare in Germany, specifically telehealth, is also more affordable for lower-income patients due to the Hospital Care Structure Reform Act of 2016. The legislation aims to cut back on unnecessary charges for medical services for patients. For example, a low-income family would be more likely to afford a telehealth appointment than a different service that requires lab testing or an in-person visit to a physician’s office.

Influences on COVID-19

Telehealth serves as a model for countries seeking solutions for healthcare in a time that requires less direct contact. The influence of German telehealth allows countries that did not previously utilize a virtual system to continue to safely provide care throughout the pandemic. Ways in which digital healthcare protects both doctors and patients include:

  1. Virtual appointments decrease the amount of direct contact between healthcare professionals and patients, simultaneously decreasing the chances of transmission.
  2. Treating patients with less severe concerns via telehealth enhances flexibility so medical professionals may attend to patients who require immediate care.
  3. The capability of healthcare specialists to partner remotely offers patients extended hours to receive virtual care.
  4. Online resources, such as self-evaluation tools, advise individuals on how to remain cautious throughout the pandemic.

Evolution of Healthcare

German contributions to telehealth reflect the way in which the U.S., as well as many other countries, are handling the COVID-19 pandemic. The German Digital Healthcare Act paves the way for the future of medical treatment and offers new options for healthcare that are not only efficient but also introduce a new aspect of convenience for patients. Although some individuals may be reluctant to adopt a digital healthcare system due to the unique challenges it poses, Germany has proven that transitioning to virtual medicine is not only possible but beneficial, as well as it continues to deliver flexible options for healthcare during the pandemic.

Calla Howard
Photo: Flickr

Telehealth in IndiaIn 2017, around 60% of the population in India faced poverty, with around 1.3 million people living on less than $3.10 a day. India is one of the most populous countries, right behind China. As the COVID-19 pandemic swept through the nation, India was hard hit by the pandemic. The International Labor Organization (ILO) has estimated that with the economic halt in India, around 400 million people are at risk of falling into poverty. As people struggle with access to food and healthcare services, digital and technological resources are being  implemented to reach those most at risk. The COVID-19 pandemic has necessitated the use of telehealth in India.

Telehealth in India

Telehealth in India has had a substantial impact on communities. Following the COVID-19 outbreak, the Indian government initiated telemedicine to help healthcare professionals reach everyone in need, even those living along the lines of poverty and those in rural locations. Telehealth in India gives the poor a chance to receive adequate healthcare without an in-person visit, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. India has made great strides in improving technological resources in the country. With these resources being improved, telemedicine can bring specialized care to even the most remote places in India.

There have been recent technological advances within India, such as the proliferation of fiber optic cables and the licensing of private internet service providers. These new technological advances have encouraged the Indian Space Research Organization to set up an exclusive satellite called HealthSAT that can bring telemedicine to the poor on a larger scale.

Telemedicine Systems

A telemedicine system in a small health center consists of a computer with custom medical software connected to essential medical diagnostic tools. Through the computer, digitized versions of patients’ medical images and diagnostic details are dispatched to specialist doctors through the satellite-based communication link. The information is received and examined to diagnose and suggest appropriate treatment through video-conferencing. With all of these services being offered, reaching the poor in the most remote places has become more of a possibility.

The Impact of Telehealth

Though the COVID-19 pandemic has brought about negative effects for India, it has also compelled India to utilize more digital and technological resources to expand its reach. Telehealth in India has brought some relief to overburdened healthcare systems, relieving the pressures of increased caseloads due to the pandemic. Medical centers now have the ability and capacity to reach long-distance patients. The Indian government issued the Telemedicine Practice Guidelines in March 2020, allowing for registered medical practitioners to provide healthcare services using telecommunication and digital technologies.

The Future of Telehealth in India

Telehealth in India is bringing about new growth within the medical arena. The prolonged pandemic and the absence of a vaccine means telemedicine and telehealth services are integral and will be useful for the foreseeable future. Not only will the middle-class and the wealthy have access to healthcare but healthcare services will also be able to reach the poor in the most remote places.

– Kendra Anderson
Photo: Flickr

Innovations in the PhilippinesOver the past decade, there have been drastic innovations in the Philippines. The country has experienced dramatic economic growth and development. In 2019, the Global Innovation Index (GII) found that the country improved on all metrics used to calculate advancement.

Economic Growth

In 2019, the Philippines appeared for the first time in the “innovation achievers group.” The country outperformed many other countries in the area.  Some of the metrics used to calculate these scores included increased levels of creative exports, trademarks, high-tech imports and employed, highly educated women.

As a country, the Philippines has risen 19 spots in the ranking since 2018, to 54th out of 129 participating countries. This indicates a significant increase in the standard of living for many Filipinos. This is apparent in the significant decrease in the poverty rate over the past few years. From 2015 to 2018, the national poverty rate dropped a total of 6.7%, or by 5.9 million people.

Prosperity is largely due to the success of local business owners and entrepreneurs. They have used their influence and prosperity to help those in need in their communities and countries, especially in the health sector. Coincidingly, there was a significant increase in global trade. Both factors have propelled the Philippines into the global economy as an important emerging market to keep an eye on.

Global Benefits

In 2018, the Philippines and the United States trade relationship developed significantly. The total goods trade was $21.4 billion collectively, in the petroleum and coal, aerospace and computer software, motor vehicles and travel/hospitality sectors. This is beneficial to the U.S. because international trade employs over 39.8 million Americans. As the Philippines becomes more prosperous, more Filipinos are able to pour money and resources into helping marginalized communities across the country. As such, there has been an increase in innovations in the Philippines, notably in the health and medical sectors.

RxBox

A distinct industry on the frontlines of innovations in the Philippines is the health sector. Increased health for a population is directly related to better access to opportunity and a higher standard of living overall. One company doing this important work in the Philippines is RxBox.

RxBox was developed by the country’s Department of Science and Technology. It is a biomedical telehealth system that provides health care and diagnoses to people in communities that are remote, difficult to access. The service is additionally available for people who do not have access or the ability to travel for health care.

It is a game-changer for disadvantaged people who would otherwise not be able to get fast, effective medical care. RxBox reduces costly hospital and medical visits, which facilitates better health for people. Communities are then better able to care for themselves and for their families, providing greater opportunities for everybody.

Biotek M

There is another player in the innovations in the Philippines: Biotek M. It is a revolutionary diagnostic kit for Dengue. A local team at the University of the Philippines-Diliman were the creators of this new technology.

Traditionally, the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test is used to confirm the disease but can cost up to $8,000 and takes 24 hours to get results. That is inaccessible to lower-income people who are oftentimes the demographic most commonly afflicted by the dengue infection. The kit helps reduce resource usage for both medical centers and patients by making the diagnosis process significantly more streamlined.

In 2017, 131,827 cases of Dengue were recorded with 732 deaths, mostly affecting young children aged 5 to 9-years-old. Being able to quickly diagnose and treat people who contract this illness makes a huge impact on people living in poverty.

When people spend less time, energy and money on being healthy, they are able to use their resources more efficiently. In this way, medical innovations in Philippines and a growing economy directly increased the standard of living for people living in poverty within the country.

Noelle Nelson
Photo: Flickr

Telemedicine in Africa
In 2019, there were 747 million SIM connections in Sub-Saharan Africa, accounting for 75% of the population. While each SIM connection does not necessarily constitute a unique user, this number represents an unprecedented rate of access to mobile connections in Sub-Saharan Africa. As a result of this radically increased mobile connection, public services have been able to reach populations that people previously considered to be extremely remote due to lack of nearby roads or airports. Among these services, telemedicine has been one of the most effective ways to fill gaps in healthcare systems for rural Sub-Saharan Africans. Here are three startups transforming telemedicine in Africa.

mPedigree

Aiming to address the issue of counterfeit drugs plaguing Sub-Saharan Africa, mPedigree is a drug authentication service that allows customers themselves to be sure their medicine is genuine. Over 122,000 children across the continent die annually from counterfeit antimalarials, a number that the company’s founder, Bright Simons, sought to slash to zero when he launched mPedigree in Ghana in 2007.

To authenticate the drug, the company first prints 12 digit codes onto drug packaging. Users then text this code to mPedigree’s customer service number, and the company confirms or denies the validity of the code in its database. Not only does this prevent users from consuming counterfeit drugs, but it also allows the company to trace fraud back to the source. As founder Bright Simons reported, “in Nigeria, our technology has helped regulators pinpoint where fraud is happening and catch the fraudsters.”

Simons estimates that 75 million Africans have benefited from mPedigree’s services, with more than 2,000 products registered in the company’s database. Through its simple yet effective method, mPedigree not only saves lives but marks a major milestone for the implementation of telemedicine in Africa.

Zipline Rwanda

When Silicon Valley drone startup, Zipline, partnered with the Rwandan government to deliver to remote rural villages, vital medical supplies became infinitely more accessible almost overnight. The startup’s main focus is blood delivery, a vital resource in a nation where maternal mortality rates, largely due to postpartum hemorrhaging, are 20 times higher than those in the United States. On top of this, Rwandan hospitals often lack the refrigeration and electricity necessary to keep blood on hand.

As of 2016, Zipline has delivered more than 4,000 units of red blood cells, platelets and plasma to 12 hospitals across Rwanda. As Dr. Roger Nyonzima, the head surgeon in the maternity ward at a hospital near the nation’s capital, said, “before it took at least 3 hours to get blood in an emergency. Three hours can make a difference between saving and losing a life. Now we get blood in 15 minutes.”

Zipline Rwanda has thus far completed over 14,000 life-saving blood deliveries, with plans to expand into its neighboring country, Tanzania. By cutting around the need for paved roads or airports for medical deliveries, the company provides one of the most essential resources to those who would otherwise have the least access.

Ubenwa

Founded in 2014, this Nigerian application uses AI to detect signs of infant asphyxia in a child’s cry. Today, infant asphyxia, or, loss of oxygen, causes about one-third of deaths in children under the age of 5. By a simple downloadable application, Ubenwa seeks to give parents the ability to prevent asphyxia before it starts.

Taking just 10 seconds to detect signs of infant asphyxia, Ubenwa is faster than a traditional blood test detection, which can take hours to process. Additionally, the app is non-invasive, needing only the child’s cry. It is also roughly 95% cheaper than a traditional blood test. In other words, the app seeks to give detection ability to any parent, at home, in real-time.

Currently, the app is in the final stages of fine-tuning its AI algorithm but has been deployed in several Nigerian hospitals. During testing, Ubenwa attained 95% accurate prediction rates among the 1,400 baby cries that underwent testing. With its easily accessible platform, Ubenwa represents a major achievement for the use of AI in telemedicine in Africa.

As rates of smartphone ownership increase across the continent, telemedicine continues to fill gaps in Africa’s healthcare systems, providing vital services to those who would otherwise be left underserved.

– Jane Dangel
Photo: Flickr

internet access
In sub-Saharan Africa, more people own a mobile phone than have access to electricity. About 41% of sub-Saharan Africans use the internet and 33% own a smartphone. Importantly, these numbers are on the rise. The region’s internet access has greatly expanded in recent years, especially in rural areas. This, in turn, allows for more people to use digital services such as online education and telemedicine. Widespread access to these key services benefits rural communities across sub-Saharan Africa by promoting socioeconomic development. All of these benefits, made possible through internet access in sub-Saharan Africa.

Expanding Access to Telemedicine

Rural communities in sub-Saharan Africa typically have fewer health resources and doctors readily available. Moreover, people may need to travel long distances to reach the nearest hospitals. The region holds 13% of the world’s population, but only 2% of the world’s doctors. With mobile devices and reliable internet access, people can access basic healthcare regardless of their geographical location. According to a 2017 Pew Research Center survey, 41% of respondents in sub-Saharan Africa “use the internet to access information about health and medicine.”

By facilitating telemedicine systems, internet connectivity can improve the quality of care in community health centers and reduce patients’ transport times and medical costs. For example, the Novartis Foundation, a nonprofit organization focused on projects that improve health, launched a telemedicine system in Ghana in 2011. This system allows frontline health workers to connect with medical specialists across the country. Available 24/7, doctors and specialists at teleconsultation centers provide advice for treatments and help manage emergency cases.

Increasing Literacy Through Online Education

According to the Pew Research Center, the large majority of surveyed sub-Saharan Africans believe that “the increasing use of the internet has had a good influence on education in their country.” As internet access has increased dramatically in recent years, digital learning has become a more promising opportunity to improve literacy rates in the region. Also, because more people own smartphones, online learning resources are more widely available and ubiquitous.

Digital learning is a more cost-effective way to increase access to education, which will directly benefit impoverished communities. Educated people are more likely to be employed, earn a higher income, participate in politics and ensure that their children are also educated. Therefore, increased access to education can lift individuals and communities out of poverty — having a lasting, positive impact on the sub-Saharan region as a whole.

Looking Ahead

Numerous governments, telecommunications providers, nonprofit organizations and private companies have invested in sub-Saharan Africa’s internet connectivity in the last decade. Telecom providers have expanded internet connectivity by selling and distributing solar off-grid kits to individuals. This, in turn, also helps to promote renewable energy in the region. In May 2020, Facebook, along with African and global telecom partners, announced plans to build 37,000 kilometers of subsea cable infrastructure. This project, called 2Africa, will create a direct high-speed internet connection between 16 African countries, Europe and the Middle East.

Overall, as internet access expands across sub-Saharan Africa, more people will be able to access digital services with extensive socioeconomic benefits. Telemedicine and online education are accessible only to those with a reliable internet connection. However, these benefits can have a massive impact on health, literacy and poverty rates in sub-Saharan Africa — especially in rural communities.

Rachel Powell
Photo: Flickr