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[KIGALI] Technologies such as mobile phone applications could help Africa achieve universal health coverage but challenges including failure to recognise the unique contextual factors associated with their deployment in low-income settings should be addressed, experts say.

According to the WHO, universal coverage ensures that all people and communities can use quality health services they need while also ensuring that the use of such services does not expose them to financial hardships. But experts say that despite the potential of mobile technologies in addressing barriers to universal health coverage, the continent is grappling with inadequate benefits from their use.

“Africa is diverse and if the many technological applications developed are to make any meaning, there is the need to think about impediments such as most of them [technologies] being programmed in dominant languages such as French, English and Chinese that are not understood by many [Africans],” says Yap Boum II, regional representative for Epicenter Africa, a research arm of Médecins sans Frontières.

“There is a need to think about impediments such as most of them [technologies] being programmed in dominant languages such as French, English and Chinese”

Yap Boum II, Epicenter Africa

According to Boum II, through mobile phones, a mother and her children in Africa’s remote settings could easily be consulted by a heath professional without having to leave her home that entails related challenges such as transport costs.

“If we want to think about universal health coverage … technology is a great enabler that will help us meet the goal, and reach the so far unreachable by health professionals,” he says.

But a lot of people do not understand the dominant economic languages that these technologies are programmed in.

“The minimum we can do is to have community health workers trained in dominant language such as French and English, especially in rural remote parts of the continent where diseases are ravaging people and claiming many lives,” he says.

The proliferation of applications for different ailments and in languages not understood by the people, he says, is a nightmare for healthcare professionals to use them to boost healthcare in Africa. Boum II and other experts who attended the Africa Health Agenda International Conference in Rwanda early this month (5-7 March) were concerned that the continent is not benefiting enough from use of technologies to improve healthcare.

Kunle Kakanfo, a medical doctor and founder of Health Innovation Hub Nigeria, tells SciDev.Net that mobile phone penetration has increased over the years across communities in Africa and could be deployed for convenient and timely access to healthcare in African communities.  

But there is a need to engage the developers to create applications that allow integration of other applications, lessen the burden of the patients and ensure innovations have minimum inconvenience to the patients and medical personnel, he explains

“There are 25,000 to 40,000 applications currently being deployed or being worked on in Africa,” says Kakanfo. “It is not about having the proliferation. It is about reaching the end goal of access to healthcare and achieving universal health coverage.”

This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.

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