MedTechs Help Overstretched African Doctors Accelerate Diagnostics and Save Lives

Africa, healthcare, MedTech

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), African countries suffer from a severe shortage of healthcare professionals, with many having fewer than 0.2 qualified physicians per thousand people. To put that into perspective, the U.S. has around 2.6, while Germany has 4.3, according to WHO data.

The problem is even worse when it comes to more specialized medical professions.

In Ghana, for example, one 2020 study found that there were just 56 radiologists practicing in the West African country of over 30 million people.

It’s no surprise, then, that the combination of poor medical infrastructure and the lack of access to specialists has created major diagnostic inefficiencies across the region. For example, it can take several days to make what would have otherwise been a quick diagnosis and treatment, putting patients at risk of further complications or even death.

Telemedicine for Specialists

To address this shortage of medical specialists, Ghana-based MedTech startup InstantRad has built a teleradiology platform that allows its network of trained experts to review medical scans remotely.

Egyptian firm Rology is also looking to solve the problem by building an online platform that increases radiologists’ productivity with AI-powered tools. The company also matches hospital cases to available radiologists based on their subspecialty and experience.

InstantRad and Rology operate under a simple principle. With radiologists in such short supply, there’s no guaranteeing that one will be immediately available when a patient turns up for a scan. So, in order to speed up the diagnostic process, teleradiology connects remote doctors to the latest patient image scans and other medical records needed to inform and speed up their diagnosis.

AI Diagnostics

To further accelerate the pace of diagnosis in a medical environment challenged by a shortage of specialists, firms are also developing artificial intelligence to automatically screen X-rays and other scans for diseases.

Kenya-based Neural Labs Africa, for example, has developed an AI algorithm that can identify over 20 respiratory, heart and breast pathologies.

The HealthTech firm is currently training its models on data from Kenya and Senegal, and is looking to partner with more hospitals, institutions and laboratories in order to train the AI models on other data sets to improve their accuracy.

Of course, whether via teleradiology or AI screening, the accurate diagnosis of certain diseases presupposes access to the facilities needed to carry out the right scans and tests.

Across the African continent, eHealth startups like Healthtracka in Nigeria and Ghana’s Redbird are helping to transform the way people access health tests and reduce their need to visit a hospital or send samples to a lab.

Learn more: eHealth Startups Making Moves Across Africa

On the hardware side, companies like Kenya’s Ilara Health have set about equipping rural clinics and doctors with a range of affordable, easy-to-use diagnostic tools, such as blood pressure monitors and blood glucose testing machines, to improve the quality of medical care in the region.

Ilara has also developed a fully automated hematology analyzer, which allows small clinics to measure red and white blood cell count, platelet count, hemoglobin concentration and other metrics that are critical for diagnosing illnesses and typically require an in-person visit to a health facility to complete.

Related: At-Home Service Platforms Reshape Healthcare in Emerging Markets

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