Healthcare-focused technology companies are springing up across sub-Saharan Africa after the coronavirus pandemic highlighted gaps in the continent’s medical supplies chain, according to a new report funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
More than 60 new and existing private firms are now distributing health products to consumers and hospitals via technology across Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, and Uganda, Salient Advisory, a healthcare consulting firm, said in the report. The Covid-19 outbreak has also encouraged new entrants in telemedicine, or long-distance patient treatment, it said.
“Startups across the continent are developing innovative, commercial models to transform health-product distribution for consumers and providers alike,” the report said.
The pandemic has highlighted long-existing weaknesses in African health systems, while the imminent need to distribute and administer vaccines across vast territories will only make the problem more apparent. The continent has been relatively little affected by the virus based on official statistics, but testing and reporting is patchy in many countries and anecdotal evidence suggests there have been regular surges.
The startups are being joined by major e-commerce platforms such as Jumia Technologies AG in offering over-the-counter health products, and Nigeria-based Konga plans to launch its health-care distribution subsidiary in the second half of 2021, the report said.
Some health startups are now serving as many rural customers as in urban areas, with services offered including patient engagement via chatbots and text messaging, inventory management, stock financing and counterfeit drug detection. About 53% of the 61 companies surveyed indicated an interest in the distribution of Covid-19 vaccines through last-mile delivery and administration support.