Bridging the Digital Divide for Universal Health Coverage innovation in Africa

Bridging the Digital Divide for Universal Health Coverage innovation in Africa

Can Africa achieve Universal Health Coverage? There are mountains to climb  when it comes to achieving Universal Health Coverage (UHC) in Africa – poverty, inadequate infrastructure, lack of political will among others. Yet, technology has proved that Africa can leapfrog into the future. The mobile money innovation, has for instance, made it possible for the previously unbanked to receive and send money from their phones.

In this digital era, using digital technology to ensure access to quality healthcare is no longer an option; it is the way to go. In South Africa, the WatIF health portal was designed as a health work force multiplier that up-skills nurses to perform tasks previously reserved for doctors and specialists. Medtronics labs on the other hand, designs healthcare delivery models with and for communities using digital technologies across a range of healthcare services. It also collaborates with various partners to ensure sustainability and to amplify impact.

During the first multi-stakeholder meeting that took place in Kampala on March 20, convened by Novartis to discuss sustaining the momentum toward UHC in Africa, one of the key discussions was about leveraging digital technology. The stakeholders emphasised that technology is an enabler for the attainment of UHC. They also highlighted that any such technology towards UHC should be built on centralised systems and the innovation solutions scalable. However, low internet connectivity in Africa was pointed as a barrier for effective innovation for advancement of UHC on the continent.

While only about 35% of Africa’s population are connected to the internet, majority of the continent leaders look at digital technology as a threat to political power rather than an enabler for economic and social growth. So far, African governments that have interrupted the internet include Algeria, Burundi, the Central African Republic , Cameroon, Chad, Democratic Republic of  Congo, Congo (Brazzaville), Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Ethiopia, Libya, Niger, Togo, and Zimbabwe, Uganda, Mali, Morocco, the Gambia and Sierra Leone. In fact, within the first three months of 2019, internet disruptions were registered in five countries – Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Sudan and Zimbabwe.

In Uganda, it is now 10 months since government introduced social media tax for Over the Top (OTT) services such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and Skype. Subscribers are charged a daily fee of Shs 200 to access OTT services while 0.5 percent is charged on every mobile money withdraw. General outcry and protests that characterised the tax introduction fell on deaf ears. A recent research by Pollicy in partnership with Access Now, shows that prior to the social media tax, 33% of respondents would access social media platforms more than 10 times a day. This number dropped to 6.6% after the tax was introduced and 86% of respondents feel that the social media tax should be abolished.

For Universal Health Coverage to be achieved, the efforts of leveraging digital technology have to be supported by deliberate efforts from African governments to create an enabling environment for innovations. The first step is to connect people to the Internet and to desist from deliberate disruptions or shutdowns.

As Dr. Githinji Gitahi, the CEO Amref Health Africa Group said at the first multi-stakeholder meeting in Kampala in March, no country prospers without investing in its people and health is central to development.

My attendance at the Dialogue  was sponsored by Novartis Social Business. 

Visiting the Dentist

Visiting the Dentist

Think of a Vitz car owner, every three months they will service their car at 100,000 Ugx.  A new Pirelli tyre (65/70R14) is about 250,000 Ugx, they will pay without questioning but the same car owner will frown when a dentist tells him that a dental checkup is at 35,000 Shillings.

Priorities anyone?

Many Ugandans like me dread the idea of visiting a dentist, the last time I was at dentist’s, I was hoping he would say,

“let us cement the tooth,” he instead said, “I am sorry you will have to lose that tooth.”

I wanted to run out of the clinic, but the pain from the previous night had been unbearable.

“Check again,” I asked him.

“That is it ma’am there is nothing we can do about it.”

“If I start to remove teeth now, won’t my mouth be empty by 50?”

He went quiet.

“Is this tooth beyond a root canal or something?”

“Yeah it is, because, it is broken from all corners, and it has a deep cavity there is nothing we can do to save it ma’am.”

“How about an implant?” I asked

“an implant?” He chuckled.

“That will cost you 5.5 million shillings ma’am.”

“I am a blogger sir; bloggers don’t usually have that kind of money lying idle on their accounts.”

The hope of saving my tooth was waning.

“When you make up your mind, I will be here.”

I strode in the corridors, the thought of not having teeth at 50 bothered me.

Without invitation, I entered the room, removed my shoes and mounted that chair like a lamb ready for slaughter. The dentists room reminds me of a construction site, cement,  pliers, screws, nails, screwdrivers, chisels and those wielding machine-like things. The difference here is the size – they were probably picked from Lilliput. Anyway, The dentist enters with a mask covering his nose and mouth.  He injects me twice, now I feel like my mouth is larger than life. The excavation starts, I can almost see wielder’s sparks as the dentist mercilessly pulls. In my mind, I see my mouth tearing into two pieces.

“Wider” he says, “open wider.”

That is the widest my mouth can open.” I think to myself.

Surely if this tooth was this hard to remove. It could have been saved. A-not-so comforting thought crosses my mind, I picture my 50-year-old self at a barbecue as the pork platter passes by.

“Do you want a piece ma’am?” the waiter would say.

“I am fine.”

‘I am done.’ The dentist announced.

He placed a large blood-spattered molar on one of those silver plates in his room.

I put my molar in my bag. And waved him goodbye.

This week on Monday was the world oral health day, Code Clinic hosted a blogger’s meet and greet and of all places in the dentist’s room. I narrated my ordeal to Dr. Steven Mugabe, in response, he said. 

“You know you don’t have to go through this torment again. You will have to practice better oral care. Eat meals on time so that you don’t have to snack and if you must snack, eat fruits. Stay away from soda, ice-cream, cake, alcohol, parked juice instead go for fresh juice, water and plain yoghurt, brush your teeth twice and use toothpaste with fluoride, and visit your dentist every six months”