Blockchain technology tipped to boost healthcare delivery in Africa

Blockchain technology is a novel tool that can boost health care on the African continent, an expert told The New Times on Tuesday.

A blockchain is a decentralised, distributed and public digital ledger that is used to record transactions across many computers so that the record cannot be altered retroactively without the alteration of all subsequent blocks and the collusion of the network.

This was highlighted yesterday during a panel discussion on the State of Digital Health in Africa that was held on the margins of the ongoing Transform Africa Summit 2018, in Kigali.

Dr Mohamed Hamdi, a Tunisian cyber security expert who heads the north African country’s Innovation Centre, told The New Times that blockchain technology capable of taking the continent’s healthcare provision to another level.

He defined it as “a technology allowing the protection of smart contracts in a transparent manner based on the involvement of minors, or witnesses.”

“I believe in it (blockchain) simply because digital health is, generally, a value chain. In terms of a trust model, a model that guarantees trust in the cyber space, the traditional approaches were not fully efficient to provide transparency and privacy. These two elements are the key advantages of blockchain.”

“Blockchain will completely revolutionise digital health care in Africa.”

Hamdi explained that digital health products are classified within the critical infrastructure and they require specific solutions especially in terms of privacy and availability.

“So, the products have to enforce the protection mechanism that guarantees privacy of patient data and the resilience in case of interruptions.”

The conversation on the State of Digital Health in Africa, among others, centred on a report and findings by the Broadband Commission for Sustainable development where it was noted that success factors for countries to realise digital health include: sustained senior government leadership and committed financing.

Other key factors are effective governance mechanisms and a national ICT framework that facilitates alignments between health and ICT sectors.

Africa is said to be experiencing a rapid development of ICT, with 80.8 percent mobile penetration and 25.1 percent internet users’ penetration, against 99.7 percent and 47.1 percent at world level (ITU sources in 2016).

Accordingly, this situation allows using eHealth services in Africa to contribute to strengthening health systems and accelerating the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals, including Universal Health Care.

In the African region, 26 countries have eHealth strategies.

According to the WHO global survey on eHealth (2015), the most notable eHealth intervention in the region is mHealth, followed by social media, telehealth and eLearning.

Reports indicate that ICT is already transforming health systems and how healthcare is delivered.

However, it is noted, challenges remain in enabling countries to sustain eHealth services and the required human resources skills.

The session hosted key thought leaders on digital health in Africa, and explored means and ways to scale up existing digital health efforts for the acceleration of health related SDGs.

Sharing best practices in Rwanda’s experience, Patrick Ndimubanzi, Minister of State, Ministry of Helth, told the panel that: “Leadership matters; and leadership makes a difference.”

“What we have done for the last 10 to 20 years is to understand that ICT and digital healthcare can make a huge difference in healthcare,” the minister said, giving an example of how the rapid sms platform employed by health workers in the country has revolutionised emergency healthcare provision to pregnant women in remote areas and saved lives.