Baobab Definitions: Telemedicine

Telemedicine noun \ te-lə-me-də-sən \ The delivery of health care services using information and communication technologies. Used for the exchange of valid information for diagnosis, treatment and prevention of disease and injuries, research and evaluation, and for the continuing education of health care providers, all in the interests of advancing the health of individuals and their communities.

The Challenge in sub-Saharan Africa

For many people living in sub-Saharan Africa seeking medical help is extremely difficult, the population density in rural areas is low and the distance patients need to travel to access the services they require can be vast. In 2018 the World Health Organisation estimates that doctor to patient ratios are frequently less than 0.5 physicians per 1000 patients. In the United Kingdom it is estimated that for every 1000 members of the population there are 2.83 doctors, or to put it another way, for every 1 doctor there are potentially 354 patients. In the Democratic Republic of Congo there are 0.091 doctors per 1000 of the population, this equates to one doctor for every 10,989 members of the population.

Low numbers of specialists and consultants means that there are severe shortages in resource which can lead to long waiting times, or patients not getting the specific advice they need. The large distances between patients and specialist medical help places additional pressure on the medical sector.

Training more specialist physicians is a strategic fix for the medical sector, however plugging the immediate resource gap requires thinking about how to use available resources more effectively. Telemedicine is not a new concept, it has been around since the 1970s, but improvements in mobile technology and infrastructure are opening up the continent helping to provide accessible healthcare to all.

Locating Health Services

Trying to find a health professional in the Democratic Republic of Congo was a huge challenge for the co-founders of WapiMed, a DRC based health technology company aiming to improve health outcomes across the central African region. Their approach was to build a geolocated database of health centres, expertise and medical professionals to help patients identify sources of expertise and accredited medical centres. Providing patients and medical professionals with a database to find trusted experts is extremely important, and for medical professionals having a network to discuss your observations not only supports a better and more effective health service but it allows information and knowledge to more readily circulate.

Digitising Medical Records

One of the UNs health goals is the eradication of preventable diseases such as polio through immunisation. Vaccination is one of the cheapest and simplest methods of fighting diseases, but so far only smallpox has been completely eradicated. Community health workers are often responsible for managing and administering vaccines across the continent and ensuring that every child receives their full vaccine schedule up until their 5th birthday.

ChanjoPlus aim to use simple USSD and SMS technology to create a single vaccine record for every child. This low touch solution is a simple and scalable model to delivering medical guidance to parents and caregivers, connecting them to their health workers and providing vital assistance to them in the early stages of parenthood.