All it took was an epidemic, Ebola, to show the terrible state of infrastructure and health systems in West Africa, despite decades of development assistance. What if the solution was digital? What if technology, applications and networking enabled successes where bricks and mortar failed? This is the gamble of e-health, which is now raising high hopes in Africa.
“Yes, the technology comes from northern countries, but the most advanced uses come from Africa, writes Jean-Michel Huet, author of Digital in Africa (Ed. Michel Lafon). By reducing transaction costs, digital technology makes it possible to reduce the gap between African populations with access to the Internet and those in Europe or the United States. Never has an African living in a big city been so close to a Frenchman. “
It has been twelve years since the World Health Organization (WHO) adopted a resolution to create an e-health strategy. According to WHO, digital innovations contribute to the goals of universal health coverage by breaking down barriers such as cost, access or lack of quality of care, while expanding the range of services offered. Especially in areas where there is a shortage of personnel and infrastructure.
But the real boom in e-health is more recent. In recent years, all over the continent, applications have been developing. And if there were to be a priority ranking in this area, the health of pregnant women and young children would come first. Thus, out of the nine projects awarded on Monday July 3 in Lavaur (Tarn) by the Observatory for e-health in southern countries, six relate to actions intended to reduce mortality among mothers and their newborns. .
“Mother-child health is one of the areas where there is the greatest need,” indicates Béatrice Garrette, Executive Director of the Pierre-Fabre Foundation, which created this observatory in 2015. Access to services must be improved. health … A digital revolution is underway and it connects 95% of the population through a cellular network. This revolution includes the countries of the South and brings the most vulnerable populations out of their isolation. “
All the scientific communications from this conference day say it: the need to involve the public authorities in e-health projects is one of the success factors. In this area, Rwanda is a champion, with a national strategy adopted in 2008.
“Thanks to the significant involvement of elected officials, we have for example developed an application that works by SMS in each village,” explained Erick Gaju, national e-health coordinator for Rwanda. Pregnant women receive messages reminding them of the dates of their medical visits and then of their child’s first vaccinations. We have also developed a drone platform that can deliver blood bags very quickly to hospitals in the eastern part of the country. In Rwanda, there are infrastructures and personnel specially dedicated to the various e-health programs. “
Elsewhere, the development of nationwide pilot projects is often a difficult task. “We have to find partners and it is not easy,” acknowledges Ethiopian Tigest Tamrat, consultant in the health and research department of WHO. It often depends on the willingness of states to go into debt. Are they ready to do it for a crucial area like health? It’s not always the case. Even if digital allows a lot of savings. “
Of the nine projects awarded on July 3, four relate to the African continent, where nearly half of the population, or half a billion people, use mobile services. Each award-winning project will be supported for one year by the Pierre-Fabre Foundation with the contribution of the Foundation of the Future and the French Development Agency (AFD, partner of Le Monde Afrique), which will give it access to financial assistance. as well as to various services: communication, studies, web design.