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[NAIROBI] The lack of prioritisation of digital innovations in health systems could make it difficult for Africa to attain the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a forum has heard.

The 3rd Annual Aid and International Development Africa Summit held in Kenya last month (27-28 February) noted that Africa is slow in integrating digital innovations into health systems.

Good health and well-being, according to the forum, is the cornerstone for developing the continent but if not fully achieved, it will be difficult to attain the SDGs not related to health.

“Drone technology implemented in Malawi is assisting the locals in the transportation of blood for early infant diagnosis of HIV.”

Matthias Boyen, UNICEF

The conference was attended by about 350 experts from various countries including Kenya, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Nigeria, Rwanda, Somalia, South Africa, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Saudi Arabia, Switzerland, the UK and USA.

Matthias Boyen, drone focal point, HIV/AIDS project officer at United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund, tells SciDev.Net that locally relevant innovations are needed.

“Drone technology implemented in Malawi is assisting the locals in the transportation of blood for early infant diagnosis of HIV in hospitals in short period of time than before over a large distance or from areas where roads are impassable due to floods,” Boyen explains.

He adds that drone technology could be used to get imagery data about an outbreak of diseases or any condition in remote areas to enable authorities to respond adequately to emergencies.

Karin Källander, a senior research adviser at the UK-headquartered Malaria Consortium, says that there is a need to understand the value of digital strategy to strengthen health systems, and the use of data to generate real-time information from community health workers in isolated areas.

According to Källander, Africa needs a health information database that is accessible through mobile phones to boost health education. Githinji Gitahi, chief executive officer of the African Medical and Research Foundation (Amref) Health Africa, tells SciDev.Net that the continent should involve local people when designing digital health innovations to ensure that their needs are met.

“Digital health innovations should be aligned with effective collaborations between private and public needs,” explains Gitahi, adding that there is a need to build capacity of communities to collect data on diseases for early prevention and control.
This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.

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