AFP/Stringer

The Promise of Digital Health

The digital age offers enormous opportunities to innovate and improve the way health care is delivered in poor countries. The key to success is to concentrate on end-users and conditions on the ground, rather than being dazzled by the latest technology.

BASEL – Africa has changed remarkably, and for the better, since I first worked as a young doctor in Angola some 20 years ago. But no change has been more obvious than the way the continent has adopted mobile technology. People in Africa – and, indeed, throughout low- and middle-income countries – are seizing the opportunities that technology provides, using mobile phones for everything from making payments to issuing birth certificates, to gaining access to health care.

The benefit of mobile technologies lies in access. Barriers like geographical distance and low resources, which have long prevented billions of people from getting the care they need, are much easier to overcome in the digital age. And, indeed, there are countless ways in which technology can be deployed to improve health-care access and delivery.

Of course, this is not new information, and a growing number of technology-based health initiatives have taken shape in recent years. But only a few have reached scale, and achieved long-term sustainability; the majority of projects have not made it past the pilot phase. The result is a highly fragmented landscape of digital solutions – one that, in some cases, can add extra strain to existing health systems.

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