Africa is wrapped around stems of underdevelopment and insufficient resources.
While life expectancy continues to increase across the globe, especially in developed countries, most African countries are still lagging with their population’s life dangling at the mercy of communicable and non-communicable, preventable and curable diseases. Less than a decade ago, about 1.6 million Africans died of malaria, tuberculosis and HIV-related illness.
Stakeholders and decision-makers in the health sector have made several attempts to improve healthcare in Africa. But all the opinions and actionable advice shared over the years boil down to: "driving positive healthcare outcomes in the continent require a certain level of investment". The World Health Organisation also noted robust financing structures are key to achieving universal health coverage (UHC). Financing structures refer to streams of income. And they include government taxation, private insurance, donations, and even out of pocket payments.
The good news: Africa’s already at the forefront of investment opportunities. Last year, over $4.77 billion was invested in African startups; although startups in the health sector didn’t draw in as much investment as other sectors like fintech. About 479 companies operating in the health sector received $379.6 million in 2021, compared to the $90 million 180 companies received in 2020.
Market drivers in the health sector
If innovators in the health sector would just ride on the waves of certain drivers, more funds will be invested in the sector, thereby transforming Africa’s healthcare system. These market drivers include COVID-19 pandemic, population needs, consumer-centricity, data aggregation and analytics, and big tech involvement.
1. COVID-19 pandemic
This is a major driver in spurring innovation across the continent; it fast-tracked the pivot to technology in the healthcare sector, too. On one hand, patients needed to stay in touch with providers, and facilities needed to stay profitable. Both parties turned to technology. And this led to the high uptake of telemedicine (or telehealth). For instance, Uganda has invested in telemedicine applications and more healthtech startups are now offering telemedicine services.
Even with the pandemic waning, it has already increased digital adoption across the continent and the only thing decision-makers or governing bodies can do is to set regulations in place to support innovators. Without an iota of doubt, COVID-19 is one of the market drivers that will dictate how the industry will operate.
2. Population needs
There are a set of people who need to be on certain medications constantly, they could be older, with a disability or a disorder. These people exist within our community longing to be cared for. It is not a surprise that medication management as a service startups like Famasi have expanded to five big cities in Nigeria.
It would also be safe to say that customers’ attitudes toward products and services are shifting in favour of solutions that prioritize creating quality experiences for them by being more personalised, accessible and transparent. A platform like Dooctora has successfully done this to bring in more customers through their network of facilities and practitioners.
4. Data aggregation & analytics
There is a need to bridge interoperability gaps in healthcare by leveraging the power of ecosystems with a data-driven backbone. This will increase market activity, cause payers and providers to comply with emerging data-sharing requirements, strengthen health systems by providing insights and show clinical and financial impact to providers at the point of care. Helium Health is one of the most reputable startups operating within this space.
5. Big tech’s Involvement
Companies like Apple, Microsoft, Google, and even Amazon are now interested in healthcare, showing commitment in both words and actions, building products, partnering and making investments in the health sector.
What does this mean for tech founders and the healthtech sector?
This means only one thing for tech founders in the healthcare sector: Now is the time to secure funding, scale and thrive. They must find the problems, know what the market is saying, pilot their solutions and secure early traction to help shape the future of healthcare in Africa. Because, indeed, universal healthcare coverage is achievable across Africa.
This is a guest post by Lauretta Hamza. She founded, co-owns and leads project/product development at Scribble, a Nigerian-Australian brand creating products and offering services to spur innovation within the creator economy. Lauretta currently works with Ingressive as a communication specialist.
Featured image courtesy Getty Images.