We Do Not Need Another Pandemic to Sustain the Growth of Healthtech in Africa

We Do Not Need Another Pandemic to Sustain the Growth of Healthtech in Africa

Healthtech, also known as digital health, is the intersection of healthcare and technology. It has been a rapidly growing industry globally in the last decade. The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated its growth, leading to a surge in demand for digital health solutions that helped to contain the spread of the virus and provide efficient and accessible healthcare services to the public. The pandemic highlighted the need for a more robust health system in Africa, largely due to a lack of adequate health infrastructures and personnel.

According to a report, Sub-Saharan Africa bears over 24% of the global disease burden but is home to only 3% of the global health workforce. On average, there are 3 physicians per 10,000 population compared to OECD countries, (The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, OECF is an international organization of 38 countries committed to democracy and the market economy.) that have 10x the number. To put that in perspective, WHO’s report estimated that African nations would need to increase their health workforce by about 140% to achieve enough coverage for essential health interventions. Again, a 2021 report titled, The State of Universal Health Coverage in Africa, shows that only 615 million people out of 1.3 billion Africans have access to the healthcare they require.

With the advent of the digital health option in the continent, there is a growing consensus that the healthtech industry in Africa has the potential to sustain its growth and become a major contributor to the development of the continent’s health system.

The Gains of Healthtech and More

Apart from improving access to healthcare services, especially for those in hard-to-reach areas, improvements in safety and quality of healthcare services and products, improved knowledge and access of health workers and communities to health information; cost savings and efficiencies in health services delivery; and improvements in access to the social, economic and environmental determinants of health, all of which will contribute to the attainment of universal health coverage, healthtech equally has the potential to sustain its growth in Africa due to the high level of unmet medical needs on the continent.

Africa faces significant health challenges with a population of over 1.3 billion people and a shortage of healthcare professionals and infrastructure. The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated these challenges, leading to a growing need for digital health solutions that can provide access to quality healthcare services to remote and underserved communities. Healthtech startups in Africa have been quick to respond to this need, developing innovative digital health solutions that are designed to address the specific health needs of the African population.

Another factor that supports the growth of healthtech in Africa is the increasing availability of mobile devices and internet connectivity. In Africa, mobile phones are the most widely used device for accessing the internet, and the continent has one of the fastest-growing mobile phone markets in the world. This has created a huge opportunity for healthtech companies to develop digital health solutions that are accessible and affordable to the largest possible number of people. For example, telemedicine platforms have been developed that allow patients to receive virtual consultations with healthcare professionals, thereby reducing the need for physical visits to hospitals and clinics.

Investments in the African Digital Health Startups

Thirty African HealthTech Startups to Receive $7m within Two Years to  Boosts Innovation - TechnologyMirror

The growth of healthtech in Africa has also been supported by the increasing interest of investors in the sector. With the rise of venture capital and private equity investment in Africa, healthtech startups are receiving the funding they need to develop and scale their solutions. Per Briter Bridges’ data, African healthtech and biotech startups raised $392 million in funding in 2021 — an 81% increase from the $110 million raised in 2020 — the highest in healthtech history on the continent. The level of innovation in the African health tech space has skyrocketed in the past few years (~60% of health tech startups were founded in the past 5 years) and this has attracted significant investment in the space, with an 81% increase in African health tech investments in 2021.

According to a Salient Advisory report, Nigeria and South Africa, two of Africa’s largest economies and tech ecosystems, account for 46% of identified health tech startups, with Kenya and Egypt trailing behind. Across these 4 markets, the health tech spaces that have received the most funding are telemedicine, health management, diagnostics and monitoring, medical supply chain, and e-pharmacies.

Government’s Interest in Healthtech

Another factor that will sustain the growth of healthtech in Africa is the increasing focus on healthcare innovation and entrepreneurship. Governments and healthcare organizations are becoming more aware of the importance of digital health solutions in addressing the health needs of their populations. This has led to the development of policies and initiatives that support healthtech startups, and the creation of innovation hubs and accelerators that provide funding, mentorship, and resources to help entrepreneurs develop their solutions. For example, the African Union has launched several initiatives aimed at promoting digital health innovation and entrepreneurship on the continent, including the African Health Innovation and Entrepreneurship Forum.

Finally, the growth of healthtech in Africa will also be sustained by the growing interest of young Africans in pursuing careers in the sector. With the increasing availability of digital health solutions, there is a growing demand for professionals who have the skills and knowledge needed to develop and implement these solutions. This has led to a growing number of young Africans pursuing education and careers in the healthtech sector, and to the creation of new programs and initiatives aimed at developing the next generation of digital health leaders.