Leveraging Communication Technology To Boost Healthcare In Rural Africa

By Charles Mensah

I came across an article by Ruth Aine on innovative healthcare platforms like the TMCG in Uganda  that one can take advantage of irrespective of the person’s location. With the use of the social media, one can get in touch with a health professional and get all inquiries answered. This is one of the unprecedented development in the healthcare industry in Africa. It is also certainly the future of healthcare on the continent. The digital media and technology has brought tremendous increase in general productivity as far as our day to day activities are concerned. Education, governance, agriculture and other sectors have had their share of how technology can cause a boom on the continent.

However, there is some level of marginalisation of the rural areas as far as the use of technology is concerned. The deployment of health professionals and basic health facilities is very essential in eradicating health problems in those areas. A World Bank statistics suggested that, the loss of healthcare workers due to the Ebola crisis could increase maternal mortality in Guinea by 38%, Sierra Leone by 74% and Liberia by a whopping 111%. What this means is that these healthcare workers may turn their back on their work once a deadly health crisis sets in. The proliferation of various technologies in other areas is commendable but a second look needs to be taken at the rural healthcare delivery in Africa. In Ghana, and other parts of Africa, technologies like mPegdigree, mPharma and others have to a large extent aided in bringing good health to remote places. For example, mPedigree tracks counterfeit medicine and prevents the end user from consuming it. This is an innovation that solves an intractable global problem. The remote places therefore need access to technologies which will enable them interact with medical doctors, even though they have no access to medical facilities due to distance or underdevelopment. In Ghana, the doctor to patient ration is extremely large and therefore we can make use of technology and social media to offset the yawning gap in the healthcare delivery in the country and Africa.

Don’t get me wrong– there are existing platforms that have trying to solve the information gap. In Ghana, there is GhanaHealthNest, which provides health information to Ghanaians. They leverage on social media to reach out to thousands of Ghanaians both in rural and urban areas. What makes it outstanding is their ability to make use 21st century communication tools to make information accessible to the citizens.

According to a new study by Frost and Sullivan, Africa’s mobile penetration in sub-Saharan Africa is expected to increase by 2020 to 79%. In addition to that, mobile broadband connections are expected to quadruple from its 2012 mark to over 160 million by 2016.

I think the opportunities the increasing penetration of these communication technology should prompt more innovation on how to meet the needs in rural Africa. For these innovations to be truly successful there should be some level of collaboration from stakeholders including the government. The provision of uninterrupted power supply to augment the mobile penetration on the continent is a major factor. The telecommunication companies will see an increase in patronisation of services because of the mobile penetration rate which has caused an increase in the usage of mobile phones and hence internet to run the digital tools. Civic education is one aspect which cannot be underestimated as well. This then calls for partnership for mutual interest with the ultimate goal being development.

Healthcare is one delicate aspect of our well-being as individuals, thus conscious efforts are needed to make it accessible to all and sundry.

Charles Mensah is an avid writer and blogger and a final year Economics and Geography student who is based in Accra. He writes about business development for Konnect Africa. He is passionate about Africa's development. He writes on entrepreneurship, business, economics and social issues. He is also the Branding and Media head of "1 Billion Africa". Charles is also a Future Challenges blogger. Follow him on twitter @mensah_charles