The World Future Health Africa Summit will be held in Marrakech, Morocco, from May 29 to May 31, bringing together health industry stakeholders from across Africa and around the world. The conference will shed light on some of the trends that are expected to shape the continent’s health sector in 2024 and beyond.
With estimates indicating that 56% of Africans lack access to quality care, advances in technology – such as AI, data management, and connectivity – that improve medical outcomes offer a real opportunity to leapfrog challenges that have existed for decades.
Researchers believe that Africa’s emphasis on digital health has the potential to provide more affordable and accessible healthcare to the continent’s 1.5 billion citizens, with digital solutions expected to provide access to up to 400 million more Africans.
While several trends are expected as the continent aggressively transitions to digital health, I’d like to focus on six of them, which will also be a big part of the discussions in Marrakech. The first is the ability to provide telehealth. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), telemedicine can bridge geographical gaps and allow remote medical consultations for 45% of Africa’s population. In recognition of the critical role that technology can play in bridging the physician-patient divide, Gertrude’s Hospital Foundation launched Daktari Smart, a telemedicine platform, in 2021. We use technology and innovative approaches in the program to diagnose and treat needy children from all over the country effectively.
The second expected trend is patient self-care, in which individuals will be empowered with health management tools to oversee their well-being. According to the WHO, self-care is the ability of individuals, families, and communities to promote health, prevent disease, maintain health, and cope with illness and disability with or without the assistance of a health worker. According to MHealth Africa, mobile health applications can significantly reduce hospital visits by up to 47%, with the WHO recommending self-care as a critical path to achieving universal health coverage, promoting health, keeping the world safe, and serving the vulnerable.
The third trend is increased robotics and automation adoption. According to the African Journal of Biomedical Research, robotics and automation can improve surgical precision and reduce human errors, cutting surgery time by up to 20%. Locally, in 2021, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) piloted smart anti-epidemic robotic solutions in collaboration with the Ministry of Health to aid in the management of the COVID-19 pandemic. The integration of the robots into Kenya’s healthcare system was expected to improve infection control, prevent transmissions, and support the storage of big data to inform decision-making and preparedness, resulting in a flattening of the infection curve.
Fourth, the continent is expected to see a rapid adoption of Artificial Intelligence in health, which will aid medical professionals in diagnostics, treatment planning, and predicting patient needs. According to the African Health Tech Review, this will help identify diseases with a 90% accuracy rate. Furthermore, the WHO observed in a 2021 report that AI is being used to improve the speed and accuracy of disease diagnosis and screening to assist with clinical care to strengthen health research and drug development, and to support diverse public health interventions such as disease surveillance, outbreak response, and health systems management.
The use of paperless data is the fifth trend. Health Informatics in Africa contends in their research that paperless data can streamline data access, minimize errors, and accelerate processes, with electronic health records improving diagnostic accuracy by 40%. In Kenya, the recently enacted Digital Health Act requires public hospitals to abandon paper records and digitize all their services. The development of a centralized data system is expected to improve access to health records, benefiting both healthcare providers and patients.
The sixth and final trend is decision intelligence, which, according to Africa Health IT News, is expected to strengthen clinical decision-making with data-driven insights and improve patient outcomes by 35%. Global professional services firm GenPact adds that decision intelligence in health improves care quality, improves member and patient experiences, increases cost savings and revenues, and streamlines operations.
A risk of these developments lies in the handling of medical data. The Data Protection Act, 2019 classifies medical information as sensitive personal data. Digitization of health information increases the opportunities for data to be leaked and shared widely in record time. As a result, institutions in the healthcare sector and the government will need to invest in robust cybersecurity systems to ensure the integrity of patient information and to prevent inadvertent or malicious breaches of digital records.
To summarise, it will undoubtedly be an exciting year for Africa’s and Kenya’s healthcare sectors. As the largest pediatric hospital in East and Central Africa, Gertrude remains at the forefront of digital adoption in providing quality and affordable care to children both locally and regionally.
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Dr. Ngwiri is the Head of Clinical Services at Gertrude’s Children’s Hospital. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.