top of page

Cell phones for health advice

Global Goals & Global Society
Cell phones for health advice

Skepticism rules in Harriet Uwanziga's situation, but she has already benefited from Babyl's digital offering: a health consultation via cell phone that includes consultation with a doctor. Harriet resides in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, where Babyl Rwanda, in collaboration with the Rwandan government, has been pushing its incipient business model as a provider of digital health services since 2020. According to the business, more than 2.5 million users in the small nation of East Africa have signed up for its digital services thus far.

According to the website of the company, a division of UK-based Babylon Health, Babyl's business philosophy is based on concepts from the ancient city of Babylon, where people in need of medical advice would gather in the marketplace nearly 2,500 years ago and exchange ideas on how to treat common ailments. That is "one of the earliest examples of the democratization of health care," according to Babyl.

Digital services breed suspicion

Babyl teamed up with the Rwandan government in March 2020. Its declared objective is to create an affordable digital primary care service. The system, which depends on the quick growth of internet and phone services in Rwanda, includes pharmacies and health clinics around the nation:

The idea is that users of Babyl transmit a straightforward code to schedule an appointment, and a doctor calls them at the scheduled time. Users obtain additional codes for this, which they can redeem at pharmacies and medical facilities in their area, if he prescribes medication or orders additional testing.

While this is going on, patient Uwanziga isn't entirely convinced: She tells DW, "I don't trust this digital system." "A patient may present with specific symptoms that point to a variety of conditions, leading to a mistake." Many people in her social group believed that seeing a doctor for a thorough examination was preferable.

The issue of a lack of doctors

The medical director of Babyl Rwanda, Calliope Simba, is aware of the issues that still need to be solved. "First, there is a shortage of health workers, and we have a doctor-patient ratio of one to 80,000," Simba says. Many doctors are moving to the city, so there is a shortage in rural areas.”

The doctor is also aware of widespread skepticism toward digital health services. Simba claims that it has been difficult to break into the market since there is a lack of awareness of digital health services and some people still do not trust in them. His objective: "We need to ensure that everyone in the nation is aware that online consultation is a possibility."

For African nations, expanding healthcare is a significant challenge. The WHO predicts an average of slightly under 3 female doctors per 10,000 people throughout the African continent, according to the Global Perspectives Initiative, but there are 84 female doctors for every 10,000 people in this country (GPI). The GPI brings together participants from the media, industry, politics, and civil society to assist launch new strategies to achieve certain Sustainable Development Goals. Through digitization, progress has advanced significantly

According to GPI, there are many remote locations in Africa without access to sufficient healthcare facilities, and the costs are high. Few people have health insurance, thus most people have to pay out of their own pockets. However, thanks to the backing of an increasing number of new businesses, digitization is allowing the healthcare industry to make significant advancements.

Consider John Mark Bwanika, co-founder of Uganda's Rocket Health, one of the continent's biggest businesses of its sort. Bwanika asserts that patients are beginning to reap a variety of advantages: An on-call physician would swiftly diagnose the symptoms over WhatsApp and provide information about them. Additionally, medications are delivered to patients' homes, and the business's own neighborhood clinics make it easier to treat the sick.

In Uganda, more than 50% of patients choose private treatment, according to Bwanika, who was speaking at a gathering held in conjunction with the World Health Summit in October 2020. "Private companies like Rocket Health are strongly contributing to care," she said. He urges states to give private enterprises more funding so they can offer more comprehensive healthcare.

Africa is a leader

There are numerous areas of health where interventions can be made, according to Hannah Hoelscher of GPI: In an interview with DW, Hölscher claims that at Life Bank in Nigeria, "when you phone, they provide blood and oxygen directly to your house, there is a 24-hour service." Patients in Kenya could consult medical professionals at a virtual hospital run by Suri Health.

In the interview, Hölscher states that "there is a young population in Africa, many digital natives who are very well educated." He continues by saying that access to smartphones and cell phones is fast growing. "Digital health policies are in place in 41 nations. That is still lacking in many European nations." The largest obstacle, he claims, is money; international investments must come next.

The potential for innovation on the continent is also emphasized by the Swiss charity SolidarMed, which strives to offer basic medical care, particularly in rural parts of Africa: In some sectors, Africa is a pioneer in digitization, according to program director Michael Hobbins in an interview with DW. For instance, the ability to transfer money using a cell phone was developed long before the pandemic in various European nations.

A component of the solution is more education.

The discrepancies, he claimed, are pronounced in the health industry. Hospitals can still be found with handwritten records that are organized in large books, no network access, and no computers.

In the fields of infrastructure and education, Hobbins sees a need for action. "It's disastrous if only a handful have grasped the digital offers," he claims. You still need someone patients can talk to in locations where many individuals are unable to write.

He claims that there are still significant issues that need to be answered, including who is entitled to the data, where it is held, and who has access and management. "Digitization is crucial and helps countries advance and provide better healthcare, but it's not the key," said Hobbins.

In Africa, more and more emerging businesses are providing health care online. According to experts, Africa is leading the way in providing this service, but challenges like funding and education still need to be resolved. By expanding the social network through the global society, contacts are made, knowledge is communicated and disseminated, and the Sustainable Developments Goals can be shared.


bottom of page