African Heathtech Is Stuck In A Pull Between Covid & Regulation
With access to affordable healthcare still a pipe dream across Africa, health-tech startups are disrupting the space.
While the coronavirus pandemic accelerated the use of digitized health services in the continent, lack of regulation is the fever slowing full adoption.
According to a new report by Salient, the thriving e-health sector of Africa has seen traditional healthcare provider overhaul their business models.
There are now more than 60 of such companies focusing on the region to offer quality healthcare via smartphones and desktop computers.
While Nigeria, Kenya, and Ghana made it to the top three countries for the adoption of services like telemedicine, the report states that there are fewer of such companies active operating in the Francophone African region.
But geographical inconsistencies are not the main problem: regulation is.
Well over 400 million people in Africa live with little to no access to healthcare. Of that number, half live in rural areas. Still, just one-quarter of doctors in Africa are deployed to work in ruralities.
Even the WHO says that there are just 4 doctors per 10,000 patients in Nigeria, a country with a population of more than 200 million people.
Coupled with this deficit, there are constraints in setting up tele-health shops in different African countries. The rules are inconsistent across the continent, a region of 54 countries and billions of people accustomed to divers cultures and market certain.
Thanks to the acceleration of internet penetration in the region, there’s increased uptake of digital medical services in Africa. But the indefinite laws in the region are slowing down the explosion of these services.
“In each new country of operations, a regulatory assessment needs to be conducted, and without clear guidelines it is costly and time-consuming,” the authors write,” the report stated.
It’s quite the grim look given that most of the health-tech companies operating in Africa are still in their early stages of development and operate in single markets.
Still, about 30 percent of the innovators in the space seem to have a handle on their product-market fit already, suggesting scalability.
Some African health-tech startups have raised money to bring affordable healthcare to doorsteps and fingertips.
For instance, 54gene, a startup building a genome digital bank in Nigeria, raised USD 15 Mn in a Bill Gates-backed Series A last April. In Kenya, Illara Health raised USD USD 3.75 Mn to expand its diagnostics research platform.
Although, the report revealed that fund for these ventures remains limited and highly concentrated.
The report also notes that eCommerce players like JUMIA, Copia, Konga are as well showing interest, as they now offer e-health products on their online platforms.