Africa’s e-health start-ups rise, but not all are mobile-first based

Wednesday November 1 2017

Despite the rising number of e-health start ups in Africa, a majority are not mobile phone first, says a recent study. FILE PHOTO | NMG

Despite the rising number of e-health start ups in Africa, a majority are not mobile phone first, says a recent study. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

By JAMES NGUNJIRI
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ICT use in healthcare provision in Africa is not actually mobile-first despite the number of e-health start-ups accelerating, a new report released last week shows.

This is contrary to popular assumptions that a majority of them do leverage on use of mobile gadgets to reach their target audience.

Start-ups tracked in the High Tech Health: Exploring the African E-health Startup Ecosystem Report 2017, revealed that only 44 per cent of the e-health ventures sampled are mobile-based despite popular belief in the power of the gadget to reach those in far-flung areas of the continent.

Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa are early hotspots for e-health entrepreneurs, but research shows a rise in start-ups with substantial communities of e-health innovators emerging in Uganda, Ghana, Egypt and Senegal.

The report examined data on e-health start-ups across 20 countries in Africa gathered by Disrupt Africa - a firm that studies continent’s tech start-ups and investments initiatives - between January 2015 and September 2017.

The research found 115 firms active in Africa but that not all opted for the mobile phone as a first choice.

Its findings showed that a majority do not necessarily choose phones as a delivery channel, but Kenyan start-ups still do prefer the device, with 73 per cent of these using mobile them to reach their customers.

Areas where mobile delivery is particularly crucial include maternal health and emergency responses.

“This is a timely piece of research, as more and more e-health ventures enter the market and investors take note. We all know that digital health start-ups are playing a pivotal role in increasing access to quality healthcare across Africa, but for the first time this report gives an oversight of what is happening, where, and the form innovation is taking in the health space,” said Tom Jackson, co-founder of Disrupt Africa.

In the last three years, Africa’s e-health start-ups have raised investment in excess of Sh1.957 billion ($19 million).

In Kenya, four have managed to raise Sh39.098 million ($379,600). Two of these, Totohealth and SophieBot, managed two funding rounds each. The other two to raise funding are ConnectMed and Deaf Elimu.

Ventures such as Totohealth uses the mobile technology to help reduce maternal and child mortality and detect developmental abnormalities in early stages.

The platform enables mothers and fathers to receive targeted and personalised messages timed at their child’s age or stage of pregnancy.

These messages are able to highlight any warning signs in a child’s health/development, equip them with knowledge on nutrition, reproductive health, parenting and developmental stimulation.

Another venture SophieBot, is a mobile application that tackles the issue of young people not being able to access verified and curated information around sexual and reproductive health (SRH).

The solution helps relieve the awkwardness surrounding discussions and discourse SRH, particularly in the conservative African setting.

Healthcare professionals say telemedicine, e-health and m-health are examples of disruptive technologies that can effectively and affordably deliver healthcare services to the most remote areas of the continent.

Some solutions allow patients to access consultations with medical professionals via video link. Licensed practitioners are available for same-day consultations, and can provide prescriptions, sick-notes, and referrals. For doctors, the service allows them more flexibility and control over their work hours.

According to this year’s Kenya’s economic survey report, there has been an upward trend in most of the ICT indicators over the last five years.

Mobile-cellular penetration rate, internet and mobile money subscriptions stood at 85.9 per cent, 58.8 per cent and 70.5 per cent in 2016 from 85.4 per cent, 54.2 per cent and 60.6 per cent in 2015.