Exactly two years ago, I wrote about how Africa is due for a telemedicine boom. The signs have been there for years: the health sector needs a revamp, and telemedicine is one of our best bets. In that article, we saw different reasons Africa was and wasn’t ready for this wave to reach full scale.
Some things have changed since then. For instance, health-tech startups raised 81% more money in 2021 than in the previous year. Per Salient Advisory, investors pumped $170 million into African health tech in 2022. New players have joined the scene, some of which I admit I didn’t see coming. There seems to be more awareness of health tech and telemedicine opportunities now than before.
A notable entrant into the health tech market this year is telco. Telecommunication giants, through partnerships, are aiding healthcare distribution in Africa.
In Nigeria, Airtel has been a forerunner of this movement. It started nine years ago via the Dial a Doctor service, which allowed people to make quick consultations with health professionals for N50/minute. In April this year, it took the scheme further by partnering with AXA Mansard Health to launch a digital health insurance plan. The plan allows people access to telemedicine, pharmacy, and hospitalisation reimbursement.
Vodacom is doing the same in South Africa. It recently partnered with the Free State Department of Health to introduce digital health solutions — the computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system and the assisted reality medico-legal surveillance system (ARMSS).
The CAD tracks ambulance requests from when a call is placed until the patients reach their destination. It includes the electronic records of the patients’ treatments during transportation to a medical facility and the patient report form. ARMSS, available via RealWear wearable technology, enables frontline medical staff members to record audio and video of their various procedures while working together hands-free.
Notably, this trend didn’t start in Africa. In the UK, O2 launched Health at Home in 2013, allowing healthcare professionals to give remote patient monitoring for chronic conditions such as COPD and diabetes. Airtel’s Dial a Doctor was also a spinoff of its Mediphone service in India.
Telcos have played a crucial role in improving financial inclusion in Africa. Products like MoMo, M-Pesa, Smartchash, etc. have put countries like Kenya and Ghana among the world’s biggest mobile money markets. The same can happen with healthcare. According to McKinsey, healthcare is one of the least digitized sectors globally, particularly regarding transactions, digital spending on employees and digital capital.