The Future of #Health #Tech in Africa

Article written by André Omatete who is Stats Congo leading Health Economist Contributor, based in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Limited access to health services is the cause of some of the highest maternal and child mortality rates in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The last Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) of 2013-14 revealed that the maternal mortality rate stands at 846 deaths per 100,000 births. Despite relatively satisfactory antenatal care coverage, emergency obstetric care is insufficient.The DRC also has one of the lowest prevalence rates of modern contraceptives in Africa, with only 8 percent of married women using a modern method (Barroy et al. 2014). The DRC is one of five countries that collectively contribute to half of the deaths of children under the age of five (WHO, 2012). Sixty percent of children under the age of five in the country are not covered by basic treatment services for diarrhea, fever, and respiratory infections (Barroy et al. 2014). The DRC also suffers from high rates of malnutrition, which has significant economic consequences, representing 4.5% of GDP each year (Food Aid Program 2017). The cause is linked to the very underfunded national health system, which lacks basic infrastructure to provide clean water and electricity, along with a severe shortage of health workers.

It is puzzling as to why there is still a high rate of maternal and infant mortality in the African continent, particularly for mothers and children under five, which remains a major concern, even though every effort has been made to reverse this trend. The figures speak for themselves: according to the World Health Organization (WHO), 1 in 12 children in sub-Saharan Africa dies before the age of 5 and more than 430 women die every day from preventable causes linked to pregnancy and childbirth.

To help save lives and significantly reduce maternal and infant mortality rates, the Ministry of Health should start exploiting new technologies that make it possible to diagnose health conditions more efficiently, low in cost and more precisely for mothers and children. Universal health coverage is not an option, but an obligation. Digital innovation has the power to guarantee health equity, human security, and treatment access. This is how Stats Congo got started, we believe that in this day and age we cannot provide universal health coverage if we have not digitized medical records and systematic healthcare efforts. Simply because technology-based tools allows us to control the cost of knowing which human resources are the most beneficial, and it allows us to know which hospitals are accredited to provide adequate and safe care for underserved women and children. Digitization remains essential.

Digitization in healthcare is critical, particularly in regards to communication, data exchange, data collection (children and mothers) at the community-level, to maximize on resources, and to develop health policies. It is through international not-for-profit organizations and private business partnerships with the ideal support of the local Government and the Ministry of Health in particular, to best yield results in terms of health benefits for the entire Congolese population. However, to achieve this, sustained attention from the Government as well as international donors remains irreversible, in particular with a view to meeting the socioeconomic and lack of infrastructure challenges facing the country like electricity and green power, because technology implemented without electricity, it does not work. This is imperative to increase energy coverage and improve the digital infrastructure of the country, like fiber optics, satellite coverage but also databases to be able to store data that is collected.

In addition, the use of Vscan, which is a new invention, can become a valuable asset for the delivery of antenatal care to mothers who do not have access to health facilities of sufficient size. WHO recommends at least four antenatal visits to detect any complications during pregnancy. But there are many women in rural areas who have neither the means nor the access to facilities to spend even a visit. By providing access to appropriate technologies such as Vscan, as well as to comprehensive training, we wish to make a significant contribution to the provision of basic care and the orientation of patients by strengthening the capacities, improving skills and optimizing outcomes for Congolese mothers and babies and their communities.

Improving the state of health of populations in general and that of mothers and children in particular is both an economic and social objective but also the key to the development and reduction of poverty in a country. New information and communication technologies will play a transformational role in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. These technologies can boost economic growth and give rise to new industries. Thus changing the face of education through the democratization of knowledge, and allow better quality health services.