How we can drive Health Innovation in Africa.
Innovative strategies such as digital health are needed to ensure attainment of the ambitious universal health coverage in Africa.
However, their successful deployment on a wider scale faces several challenges on the continent.
Nkem Khumbah , a coordinator of the Stem-Africa Initiative wrote that what continues to handicap Africa is its lack of mastery of modern science. And without advanced competency, [African] nations cannot harness the full power of scientific research and technological tools to solve the many health, energy and development challenges confronting them.
The sustainable development goals (SDGs) are ambitious, universal, and applicable to all countries. They encompass the most contemporary development issues and are grounded on the principles of equity (leave no one behind), human rights, accountability and sustainability.
The same principles underpin global work in health and are central to the current drive for universal health coverage (UHC), the umbrella target for the third SDG.
With a continent where success stories often struggle to be heard over news of death, destruction and disease, how does investing in innovation through technology and research become a priority?
Reaping the benefits of Digital Health in Africa requires a number of actions.
First, coordinated and synchronized approaches to rapid and wide scale roll out of DH technologies are required. This involves establishment of strong regional and national governance, regulatory and coordination mechanisms, development of appropriate DH national policies, strategies, guidelines and toolkits.
This calls for establishment of standards and mechanisms for regional and national integration, adaptability and interoperability of DH technologies.
Second, development and implementation of legal frameworks that will guide DH data ownership, availability, security, and consent for use are also required. Third, use of context specific DH in the presence of strong health systems, resilient communities and the social determinants of health are also critical for African countries to realize the potential of DH.
Fourth, evaluation of the outcomes, impact and cost-effectiveness, together with sustainable funding models for DH are also required to inform decisions to prioritize DH and determine their feasibility regarding the context of a country.
Fifth, bridging the communication, coordination and knowledge gaps between public health and ICT stakeholders is also imperative as well as training a critical mass of human resource for managing and maintaining the DH architecture and infrastructure.
Another thing is that, the communities and other stakeholders who are the end-users of DH need to be engaged, mobilized and educated for active participation in DH initiatives.
And lastly, Africa should learn and adopt lessons from the successful deployment of DH technologies in other similar settings such as Asia to rapidly advance its quest for DH development. For instance, development and use of offline DH application could help to address internet connectivity challenges in rural African communities.
Furthermore, adaptation of existing guidance documents from regions with similar contexts could facilitate rapid development of DH strategies which would in turn aid quick deployment of DH technologies.
Innovative approaches such as DH could leapfrog the attainment of UHC and the other SDG 3 targets in Africa; African health and ICT stakeholders should therefore embrace the transformative capacity which it offers.
However, DH initiatives should be implemented within the holistic framework of resilient health systems, communities and the social and economic determinants of health.
This is because their deployment requires both intrinsic and extrinsic health systems inputs, high level political commitment, national ownership and appropriate capacity for inter-sectoral coordination, planning, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation.