It was so exciting to be part of the important place digital health took in May at the Transform Africa Summit in Kigali, the leading African forum organized by Smart Africa bringing together global and regional leaders from governments, business and international organizations to collaborate on new ways of shaping, accelerating and sustaining Africa’s ongoing digital revolution. With over 4,000 attendees and 90 countries represented, the fact that the Digital Health Hub comprised no less than 5 very interesting sessions and panels in the forum was a significant step in the ecosystem realizing the importance of this theme to achieve a fully digitalized Africa. I am also very grateful to the Novartis Foundation for its sponsorship in making this event happen, thereby underlining again their leadership in this space on the continent. The teamwork between the Smart Africa team, WHO and ITU was gratifying and showed the power of collective impact in bringing together some great content and speakers.
The 80.8% mobile penetration and 25.1% Internet users' penetration, against 99.7% and 47.1% at the world level (ITU source 2016) has already allowed digital health in the African Region to contribute to strengthening health systems and accelerating the attainment of the SDGs, including UHC. In the African region, 26 countries have national digital health strategies. There is no question that with the predicted exponential increase of internet usage (+20% since 2017 according to ‘Digital in 2018’ report) as well as smartphone penetration, the potential of digital health in Africa will keep growing.
I was thrilled to moderate the session entitled “Government Leadership in Digital Health-Breaking Silos and Mitigating Pilotitis”. Government leadership for digital health has become increasingly important as there is a great need to build core systems and platforms as well as create harmonization in what is still a fragmented space. The Digital Health Working Group from the Broadband Commission released last year a report entitled “Digital Health: A Call for Government Leadership and Cooperation between ICT and Health” demonstrates the importance of ICT ministries and e-Government agencies joining forces with Ministries of Health to develop and implement national digital health strategies. A warm thank-you to the following speakers for having contributed to this important conversation: Hon. Aurelie Adam Soule Zoumarou (Minister of Digital Economy and Communication, Republic of Benin), Hon. Patrick Ndimubanzi (Minister of State, Ministry of Health, Rwanda), Houlin Zhao (Secretary General, International Telecommunications Union), Olu Olushayo Oluseun (World Health Organization- Country Representative) and Ann Aerts (Head of the Novartis Foundation). Here is a video to this session.
It was also such a pleasure to be a speaker on the panel focused on Digital Health for Universal Health Coverage and NCDs. More than 75% of NCD deaths - 31 million - occur in low- and middle-income countries and if you combine this with the shortage of health workers and health infrastructure in Africa, digital tools can make a significant contribution in tackling this rising crisis in Africa. This was a lively and passionate discussion which was moderated by Hani Eskandar (ICT Applications Coordinator ITU) with the following participants: Harald Nusser (Head of Novartis Social Business), Frasia Kura (General Manager at AMREF Health Africa), Prebo Barango (Medical Officer &Expert on NCDs at WHO Africa) and Dr. Sipula (CEO of Watifhealth, South Africa). Here is a video of the panel.
This is yet another conversation that serves as a prelude to a report on digital health and NCDs from the Digital Health Working Group from the Broadband Commission (co-chaired by the Novartis Foundation and Intel) which should be released in September around the UN High-Level Summit on NCDs in NY.
I will conclude by giving a special thanks to Jean-Philbert Nsengimana (who served until recently as ICT Minister in Rwanda and is now Special Advisor to Smart Africa) as he played a very important role in convincing stakeholders to make digital health a significant part of this impactful summit!
Here are videos of some of the other panels on digital health: