Increased internet penetration and affordability in Africa has created a robust tech ecosystem that youthful entrepreneurs are using to create homegrown software tools for better dispensation of healthcare, financial, education and energy services among others.
This has precipitated a tech explosion mainly in major cities and towns that now house tech hubs acting as knowledge resource centres for an emerging crop of ‘techpreneurs’.
They converge to think out aloud on various challenges and moot technological innovations from records, payments and attendance management systems thereby benefiting the populace with introduction of subscription-based mass-market software products.
Last year, Rwanda became the home of HealthTech Hub Africa, a HealthTech-inclined accelerator, whose mission is to help governments and startups to collaborate on technology-enabled innovations that strengthen health systems in Africa.
Founded by Novartis Foundation in partnership with Norrsken East Africa, the accelerator, a first on the continent, intends to support local authorities tackle the largest health challenges in low-income and underserved populations.
According to a 2019 survey by Briter Bridges and AfriLabs called ‘Building a conducive setting for innovators to thrive’, Africa’s tech hubs have grown to a new record of 643 across the continent providing the backbone of Africa’s tech ecosystem. This presents an opportunity for greater growth as 41 percent of these facilities are incubators, 24 per cent are innovation hubs, 14 per cent are accelerators and 39 percent offer co-working spaces.
Rwanda’s HealthTech Hub Africa will support technology innovations tackling public health system challenges in Africa and will host up to 30 startups, guiding them to test, validate and scale up their solutions beyond the region.
The goal is to strengthen the local HealthTech network by creating more opportunities for collaboration and exchange between policymakers and innovators. This will help realise the SDG declaration that emphasises on the overall health goal, Universal Health Coverage and access to quality health care without getting into financial difficulties or, worse, pushed into poverty by 2030.
Apart from capability building, the startups are also getting partnership opportunities with public and private sectors players. The private sector perspective encompasses introduction of cutting-edge digital technologies and novel business models that benefit the organisation, the startup and consumers. At government level, financial incentives for investors and large national companies have the potential to further develop the hubs into foreign investment attractors-via equity stakes in the startups and act as talent hubs for the youthful continent.
With research (WHO, 2016) showing almost 50 per cent of hospital admissions and deaths are from non-communicable diseases, the techies aim to develop virtual care solutions for cardiovascular diseases, among others, to not only ease congestion in our health facilities but also bolster home-based care programmes and improve UHC enrolment that will ride on tailored payment mechanisms convenient to the diverse socio-economic groups.
In the long run, solutions from the health hub should help in improving accuracy and timeliness of data, reducing misdiagnosis due to gaps in patient data thereby fostering treatment efficiency and help prevent burnout currently experienced by caregivers.
In East Africa, the role of the private sector in healthcare is growing and leaders across the sectors are keen on unifying diverse players across the ecosystem to grow innovative solutions.
Thus, the HealthTech hub is one of those initiatives that will go a long way in impacting the socio-economic wellbeing of patients. This, coupled with the improved government policies on health and investment in breakthrough treatments, will ensure that healthcare is delivered across the population pyramid in an effective, efficient and economical manner.
The writer is the Cluster Head – Novartis East Africa