Health Insurance in Africa? There Should Be an App for That
Right now health insurance in Africa constitutes a tale of two continents. The very affluent can take advantage of private insurance with top-tier doctors and hospitals. However, many families rely on crowded state-run facilities, with long wait times and not always the best of care or they have to pay out of pocket for medical services. The current situation leaves a huge gap in the middle. In order to make a difference different parties need to unite and start utilizing technological advances that exist in today’s marketplace.
The market for healthcare in Africa is worth some $35 billion, according to McKinsey. About half of Africa’s health expenditure is estimated to come from out-of-pocket payments. With patients paying over the counter, a sudden health crisis can cause severe financial hardship for families. And the cash economy can allow counterfeit medicines and unlicensed dispensaries to flourish.
The World Health Organization (WHO) considers health insurance “a promising means for achieving universal healthcare coverage.” The goal of universal health coverage is to provide everyone with access to the quality health services they need at a reasonable cost. Clearly, more and better coverage would transform healthcare in Africa.
Africa needs affordable pre-paid private health insurance. A few years ago, Kenya launched a successful private program that provides basic quality medical care at low cost. Costs are lessened by keeping medical tests to a minimum and using doctors’ time efficiently, with nurses performing tasks doctors don’t need to do. The Kenyan program costs about $11 a person, compared to $30 – $40 per patient the WHO estimates for a basic medical system.
One of our healthcare portfolio companies, Sphera Bluoshen, has developed an innovative solution called M Health that is being implemented in Russia and elsewhere, and will be soon be tested in Africa. M Health allows mobile consultation 24/7 for pediatric and general medicine through its mobile app. We’ve found that M Health provides easier access to healthcare, with better quality, increased efficiency and reduced costs. Patients can communicate easily with their doctors, receive medical information to which they never before had access, and essentially control their own health.
A report by KPMG Africa calls technology a positive “disruptor” that can transform the system. According to our studies on mHealth, 20% of patients in emerging countries would pay more than $5 annually for this type of service, vs. 10% in developed countries. 82% of patients with poorly managed conditions are engaged in mHealth and 40% of payers encourage patients to monitor their condition through the service.
Africamentor.com describes some of these technologies now helping to change lives. In many parts of Africa, when an x-ray or other medical image has been taken, there is no guarantee that the image will be seen by a technician or physician who is qualified to read it correctly and make a diagnosis. Now radiologists can read medical images remotely, to provide reports and consultation for doctors and hospitals in rural areas or small towns.
Another company, according to the article, has developed a vast digital library of medical information, including doctors’ credentials, which can be accessed on a smartphone. And an African entrepreneur has invented a computer tablet that allows heart examinations such as electrocardiograms to be conducted at remote, rural locations which have never before been able to perform these critical tests.
The increasing adoption of cell phones and mobile technologies allows for many innovations. For example, Kenya is piloting a portable kit consisting of a mobile app and clip-on hardware that transforms a smartphone into an eye examination tool. Another example is one state governor who simply gave expectant mothers cell phones so they can could call health professionals when they had a health issue, and receive calls to remind them to take their medicines or get their check-ups. This step greatly cuts the incidence of maternity-related complications.
Governments, providers, investors, employers and others in the private sector need to come together to develop innovative models that will work according to the needs of individual countries. It is very difficult today to obtain a license and to meet the regulatory requirements for health insurance in Africa. Today it is still challenging to provide real solutions to the people who need them most.
Quality healthcare for all is a challenge in many parts of the world, not just in Africa. We can make progress toward more feasible insurance, better coverage and quality healthcare in Africa – by employing the latest technology combined with the will to get it done.
Zandre Campos is chairman and CEO of Angola Capital Investments (ACI), an international investment firm that invests in companies in the healthcare, energy, transportation, hospitality, and real estate sectors throughout Africa. The mission of ACI is to create global value for developing countries in Africa, while contributing to their economic development.