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Looking for the Next Mobile Health Hub? How about Africa?

Africa contains 55 countries and a population of roughly $1 billion people. The entire area is undergoing mass urbanization and as a result is seeing a influx of Western diseases such as asthma and high blood pressure. Combined, these countries spend about $18 billion annually on pharmaceuticals.

Africa contains 55 countries and a population of roughly 1-billion people. The entire area is undergoing mass urbanization and, as a result, is seeing an influx of Western diseases such as asthma and high blood pressure. Combined, these countries spend about $18 billion annually on pharmaceuticals.

 Ralph Simon at WLSA (image via Twitter)
But if you ask Ralph Simon, founder and CEO of mobile strategy development firm Mobilium International, the opportunity for healthcare isn't just in these numbers. For Simon, the most important number is 620 million – the number of active cellphone users in Africa. Simon believes that each of these people is representative of a growing opportunity for connected health.
 
At the WLSA Wireless Convergence Summit, he cites data showing mobile subscriber penetration rates. Ghana, for example, has a rate of 91.9%.
 
He listed some key areas of opportunity for connected health in Africa
 
1.) Pre- and Postnatal care
 
Women in Africa are getting increasingly direct care with mobile. The Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action (MAMA), for example, provides SMS instruction for pre- and postnatal care. Simon notes that this type of service becomes important when you consider that Africa is still largely rural.
 
2.) General public health wellness
 
In the U.S. it is easy forget that counterfeit drugs are a huge problem in other countries. A company called mPedigree offers a free service to residents of African nations that allows them to validate drugs via text. After receiving a drug, a patient can simply text a serial number attached to the packaging to mPedigree, who will then verify if the drug is real or not.
 
3.) Disease care (Malaria, TB, and HIV-AIDS)
 
There are currently 5.3 million HIV-AIDS patients living in Africa. And a system that connects these patients more easily to doctors, pharmaceuticals, and treatment could only help in combatting these issues. Simon talks about Kenya, which has unexpectedly emerged as a leader in mobile commerce thanks to M-Pesa. What is M-Pesa? It's the reason Africans don't use Visa or Mastercard. Essentially, it is a means of using cellphone minutes as currency. Customers buy credits (like minutes) on their phone which can be redeemed for a variety of services and goods – including medical bills.
 
4.) Distance diagnosis and monitoring
 
Again, one of the biggest challenges in Africa is its rural landscape and infrastructure, which can keep patients and caregivers separated. Mobile health technologies can bridge the gap and help to overcome these obstacles. Simon discusses one company, uChek, which produces a system for smartphones capable of performing a full urine analysis by having patients photograph a test strip with their phones.
 
Simon's message to the audience was straightforward: Do not miss the opportunity being created by Africa's population and increasing mobile infrastructure. Smartphone demand in the continent is increasing and will only aid companies to venture into African nations. In Simon's words, “Africa is no longer the dark continent, it is the wireless and mobile future.”
 
 
-Chris Wiltz, Associate Editor, MD+DI
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