Lilongwe – Forty-one out of 55 African countries have a digital health strategy in place and consumers are dramatically increasing their engagement with digital health services during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In addition to this, according to an e-health policy paper by South African telecoms firm Vodacom, 41 percent of Internet users in Africa regularly use their mobile phones to search for health information.
The paper was published as part of the Africa.connected campaign to promote use of digital technologies to combat COVID-19. The campaign was launched this year by Vodacom, Vodafone and Safaricom. The e-health policy paper was the first in a series of six, designed to provide key insights on the role of technology in elevating healthcare.
Vodacom Group CEO Shameel Joosub said: “In many ways, the pandemic has also opened our eyes to new possibilities in the healthcare space. Our ability to deliver on the promise of digital solutions at scale presents enormous opportunity – not only when it comes to the reach of healthcare services, but also to dramatically improved health outcomes at decreased costs.”
According to Apptopia, the Byon8 app, which offers access to online doctors and symptom check-ups, has shown on average a 40% increase in engagement since March 2021.
Though the rise in engagement with informal healthcare systems is creating new opportunity, there is also significant risk in circumventing formal systems.
Concerns range from privacy and the security of personal data to medical misinformation, which is a very real threat when it comes to social media.
The report confirms that 69% of South Africans and 55% of Kenyans report that they’ve seen information that is obviously false or untrue on social media.
“Perhaps most importantly, informal systems can exacerbate inequality – partly because they preclude users with low levels of digital literacy and partly because they leave the burden of cost with the end user or healthcare worker.” Reads part of the report.
The report hence calls for more partnerships between the public sector and digital health providers on formal systems in order to create a workforce that will help health care workers and citizens avoid going outside the formal system.
“The vision behind the Africa.connected campaign is to help close the digital divide in Africa’s key economic sectors. The project is ambitious and we understand that we cannot achieve this alone. While this paper explores many of the challenges and opportunities associated with digital health solutions, it underscores the necessity of partnerships between the public and private sectors in driving critical outcomes”
“We must ‘meet in the middle’, integrating formal and informal digital health systems to harness the current rise in digital health engagement. It is our efforts now, working together to propel digital inclusion, which will determine Africa’s future,” Joosub said.