One of many struggles associated with living in poverty is the inaccessibility of health care. Just as health insurance coverage and the costs of health care are common topics of debate in the United States, other nations have their own difficulties with providing medical care to their citizens living in poverty.
In South Africa, ranked by the World Bank in 2018 as one of the most economically unequal countries in the world, 40 percent of the population lived in poverty in 2015. Poverty’s impact on the population is clear; in 2014, the life expectancy at birth in South Africa was 64.1 years, with the country ranking 190 out of 223 countries. Clearly, access to health care in South Africa is lacking. Recent innovations in health care technology in South Africa are helping to provide medical care to those living in poverty.
New Health Care Technology in South Africa
- Health Information for New Mothers: Vodafone, a phone service provider, has launched a tool called the Mum & Baby. The service provides free health information to pregnant women and new mothers. The service, which launched in 2017 and has more than 1.4 million users, provides access to articles, videos and tutorials about prenatal health and caring for a new baby. Although this service is available only to Vodafone users and thus is not accessible to mothers who do not have access to a cell phone or who use a different provider, it is still a step toward educating women about their health.
- Drones That Transport Blood: The South African National Blood Service (SANBS) collects and provides blood for transfusions in South Africa. Although SANBS reports that less than one percent of South Africans are active blood donors, the organization’s work makes a huge difference in South African health care by providing medical treatment to people undergoing surgeries, trauma victims and those with anemia. However, blood collection can only do so much; if the blood cannot be safely and quickly transported to where it is needed, it cannot be used. This is particularly problematic in rural areas. In the past, blood has been moved from place to place by helicopter. Recently, SANBS has reported that it will begin using drones to transport blood. This will be faster and less expensive than helicopters and are designed to ensure the blood is kept safe during the journey. This technology will assist SANBS in saving lives efficiently in South Africa.
- An App Fighting The Stigma of HIV: As of 2016, an estimated 7.2 million South Africans were living with HIV/AIDS, more than in any other country. Like in many other places, there exists a stigma around HIV/AIDS which can prevent people from getting the care they need. Zoë-Life, a local South African development organization, and Keep A Child Alive, an organization which provides support to children affected by HIV/AIDS, have launched an app together with the aim of helping health care professionals provide HIV/AIDS education to children in a way that does not stigmatize their experiences. The KidzAlive Talk Tool App recently piloted with great success, uses animations and games to help children understand HIV/AIDS in an age-appropriate way. In an interview with IT News Africa, Zoë-Life Executive Director Dr. Stephanie Thomas reported that “primary caregivers participating in the pilot study were more willing to give consent for their children to receive HIV testing and counseling.”
As large swaths of the South African population continue to live in poverty, these health care technologies are saving lives in South Africa. The South African government has laid out a plan, called the National Development Plan, with the goal of eliminating poverty in South Africa by the year 2030. The results of this plan are yet to be seen, but in the meantime, these organizations are making strides using technology to make health care in South Africa more accessible.
– Meredith Charney