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Telemedicine goes beyond the old borders

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Telemedicine or healing at a distance uses technology to overcome geographical borders and increase health care for all. VINO GOVENDER CM(SA), Executive for Product Innovation and Marketing at Dark Fibre Africa, explains how it works.

Telemedicine, a term which literally means “healing at a distance”, speaks to the use of technology to overcome geographical barriers, and increase access to health care services. This is particularly beneficial for extending medical services to communities that lack access to specialised health care services to their geographic location. These communities frequently experience situations where the intervention time from disease detection to beginning of care, affects the final result of the care itself.

As one of Africa’s largest economies, it is becoming increasingly important for South Africa to efficiently execute strategies  that serve and enhance the lives of all its citizens. Patients in non-urban areas sometimes have to travel hundreds of kilometres to access medical facilities – often, resulting in progression of the illness or the demise of the patient. This is where technologies based on resilient and high speed data connectivity can assist significantly in reducing and even eliminating the “distance barrier” to specialised health and medical care services. For example, the deployment of video solutions can easily connect patients at family health clinics to specialists in larger medical centres. Meaning that children could potentially consult a doctor whose practise is hours away, without travelling the distance.

Technological solutions can also connect clinics in remote areas to experts and information at medical schools, university sites and larger hospitals. Dark Fibre Africa (DFA), through its open access fibre infrastructure deployment, continues to play a critical role in enabling connectivity service providers to deliver a range of high speed fixed and wireless connectivity services, upon which, specialised healthcare and medical services can be delivered to  communities that cannot access such services due to geographic location that places them beyond physical reach. Today, telemedicine enables an increasingly wide range of services over much longer distances, including:

–              Real-time patient consultations;

–              Remote monitoring of patients’ vital signs and conditions;

–              The storing and forwarding of critical health information for analysis and diagnosis

–              The provision of specialised services over long distances

–              The wide availability of health information to patients and care givers.

There are a few mobile applications in the market today that connect general healthcare workers directly with specialists in South Africa. Through these apps, health professionals can make referrals, get advice, find information, and undertake diagnostic tests, all through their mobile phone. This results in more accurate diagnoses and appropriate referrals, reducing inefficiencies in current systems. Additionally, specialists are able to review a patient’s information, including test results and photographs, before the patient arrives at the referred hospital. This means doctors can prioritise urgent cases and prepare for their arrival ahead of time.

Innovations such as IoT sensors, smart pill bottles, and asset management devices are now being used to monitor the ‘cold chain’ delivery of vaccines, remind chronic patients when to take medication and  monitoring the health status as well as security of critical medical equipment that are deployed at remote sites.

These and other advancements, however, are ultimately dependent on telemedicine service providers and consumers having access to robust internet connectivity. A ubiquitous high-speed connectivity ecosystem enables health departments and health care service providers to effectively and efficiently extend specialised health and medical care services to a broader reach of South Africans. In addition to this, service delivery can be improved, the costs to extend services can be reduced and a vastly decreased diagnosis and treatment to result time can be achieved. The full potential of telemedicine cannot be realized without the continued deployment and adoption of advanced and high speed connectivity technologies, such as fibre, to increase the availability and access of services to non-urban areas.

At DFA, we have seen the critical and pivotal role fibre plays in accelerating service delivery. In 2014 we connected 1181 establishments and 3966 end points. In 2015 alone those figures almost doubled and tripled respectively, with 2046 buildings and 11 706 end points being connected. Our network footprint reaches a significant number  of specialised health and medical care providers, enabling them to reach a broader number of patients through digital platforms and technologies – we provide an enabling technology and connectivity foundation for the accelerated deployment of Telemedicine in South Africa. Through our wholly owned subsidiary, SqwidNet, we are also deploying the Sigfox IoT network nationally, which can be used to deliver innovative solutions and services to the health and medical care sector.

 

Africa News

IoT’s answer for Africa

IoT and digitization enables us to efficiently, proactively and predictively address the sustainability challenges that are faced globally and on the African continent, RESHAAD SHA, CEO of Liquid Telecom.

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With Africa’s population set to increase from around 1.3-billion in 2018 to 1.7-billion in 2030, both challenges and opportunities are presented with regards managing issues including food production and security pose  as well the utilization of limited natural resources in a sustainable manner.

Water scarcity and quality for example are realities that negatively impact health, food production and security. Population growth rates and climatic changes place an exponential demand on this scarce and dwindling resource. These are just some of the sustainability challenges facing not just the African continent, but other developing nations and the world as a whole. In addition to this, the demand for the delivery of basic services as healthcare and sanitation also increases.

Against this background of African population growth lies the grim projection that Africa will account for more than 50% of child deaths (under 5) by 2030, while each day, nearly 1000 children die owing to preventable water and sanitation-related diarrheal diseases according to the UNICEF 2017 trends in child mortality report. It’s an alarming fact, given that while some 2.6-billion people have gained access to improved drinking water sources since 1990, 663-million people still do not have access.

The department of Water Affairs and Forestry estimate that the agricultural sector accounts for more than 50% of water use in South Africa and experience water losses of between 30 and 40 per cent. Further, the department states that around 35% of irrigation system losses, often nutrient enriched and containing herbicides, pesticides, and other pollutants, return to rivers. These are just some of the ways in which reactive, inefficient, and manually driven processes have limited us in responding in an impactful manner and timeously mitigating these risks

It is for these reasons and other socio economic and environmental concerns that the United Nations has established its Sustainable Development Goals strategy, addressing the global challenges we face, including those related to poverty, inequality, climate, and environmental degradation.

We need to look at smarter ways that leverage technology in order to addressing these challenges. The situation requires a radical response that delivers a proactive, predictive and data driven approach to addressing these issues with exponentially growing levels of speed and impact.

The IoT ecosystem, comprising of sensors, connectivity, data analytics and workflow automation platforms, and applications are at the core of acquiring, analyzing and harnessing the insights that can be integrated into agriculture, service delivery, health and resource management processer – IoT is at the core of a digitization

One such sector which has benefited immensely from technology is in agriculture pest control, with the implementation of AI and IoT by Spanish startup AgroPestAlert. The innovation makes use of “smart” traps that capture insects and analyse their wing beats to identify their species and even their sex. Placed throughout the fields, the traps communicate with the system to predict an imminent invasion. The system will send alerts to phones, tablets and computers and use an easy-to-understand visual tool to cue farmers instantly.

Around 200-million Africans use approximately 1-million manual pumps across the continent to manually access clean drinking water.  IoT applications have been utilised in assuring the delivery of water through manual these pumps, According to estimates, at least one-third of those pumps will break down at least once in its lifecycle, and up to 70% will break in the second year of operation. The impact of not having access to clean drinking water is dehydration or water borne pandemics.

In the Kenyan Region of Kyusoa, Oxford University began a proof of concept project in 2013, which made use of motion sensors) to capture the movements of the pumps’ handle which was transmitted and analysed in real time. A decision support system based on real data was  used to predict pump malfunctions, allowing for a better planning and shortening the time needed to repair broken pumps, or avoiding malfunctions altogether, directly improving the access to clean drinking water for the rural population.

Liquid Telecom realise that the future of sustainability lies in technology and innovations such as IoT. We provide high speed fiber connectivity to interconnect as well as access platforms to build IoT solutions, in addition to access to Microsoft Azure suite of platforms for analytics and algorithm driven based processing and execution. Our Pan African network enables collaboration and cross border innovation and learning, fast well as the capability to efficiently scale out these solutions on Africa’s Liquid Cloud.

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Africa News

Africa start-up ecosystem can drive blockchain

Through nurturing and technical support, Africa’s tech start-up ecosystem can be a major driver of Blockchain-based innovation says BEN ROBERTS, Liquid Telecom’s Group Chief Technology and Innovation Officer.

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African communities have always come-up with inventive solutions to local problems. Take Somalia as an example. The country is said to have one of the largest diaspora populations in the world. It has few commercial banks and relations with international creditors remain fro­zen due to debts incurred in the late 1980s. 

So its population uses Hawala; an infor­mal value transfer system based on the per­formance and honour of a large network of money brokers. For example, it would mean a Somali based in the US would give money to a local branch agent, where it is sent to a cen­tral country clearing house, then onto a clear­ing house based in another country (typically somewhere in the Middle East). From there it goes to a Somali agent, before the funds are finally collected by an individual in Somalia.

Much like blockchain, the Hawala system is built on trust – but that’s where any similarities end. In fact, cryptocurrencies – many of which are blockchain-powered – may eventually be­come a replacement for Hawala and other exist­ing forms of international remittances. Cryptocur­rencies can enable people to exchange currency online without any middleman – even banks. 

International remittance is one of many compelling use cases for blockchain. The technology’s ability to digitise trust makes it a unique fit for many African countries, par­ticularly those where processes and supply chains remain poorly designed and susceptible to corruption.

At Liquid Telecom, we’re excited about the potential for blockchain technology across the region. Along with other emerging tech­nologies, we recognise this as another major new digital opportunity for businesses that utilises our network infrastructure and servic­es. The rise of blockchain innovation will rely on the skills and talent of the region’s soft­ware developers, who themselves rely on a high-speed internet connection and access to cloud-based tools. Our fibre footprint – which will soon stretch all the way from Cape Town, South Africa, to Cairo, Egypt – is providing the foundations for digital innovation, while our partnership with Microsoft is enabling access to the cloud-based services and tools needed to create digital solutions for local problems.

Last year, with support from Microsoft, we set-up our Go Cloud initiative, which is helping to provide the region’s start-up communities with technical support, training and access to software. Using Azure Cloud, start-ups can cut development time and experiment easily with modular, preconfigured networks and infra­structure, enabling them to iterate and validate blockchain scenarios quickly by using built-in connections to Azure.

We’re starting to see the first crop of African start-ups experimenting with blockchain and cryptocurrencies. Take Rwandan start-up Up­lus, which is utilising blockchain to secure all transactions on its digital crowdfunding plat­form. The technology also allows the platform to take contributions from any country and covert it to the local currency.

A lot of existing applications in Africa tend to fall short when it comes to user experience, and blockchain could certainly help address some of these issues – be it by creating a new trusted way to make payments or verify user identification. During this early stage of block­chain experimentation and proof of concept, it will be crucial for start-ups and businesses to develop solutions that are relevant for Afri­can communities. Without that, the technology won’t gather momentum.

Regulation can nurture or constrict the tech­nology and will have a role to play in being a ‘make or break’ for blockchain. Living in Ken­ya, I’m proud to see how proactive the gov­ernment has been in seizing the blockchain opportunity. The creation by the President of a taskforce earlier this year dedicated to blockchain – led by the former permanent secretary for Ministry of Information and Com­munications, Dr. Bitange Ndemo (see page 7) – shows how committed the country is to being a leader in emerging technologies. As more African countries follow Kenya’s lead, blockchain should hopefully find itself reso­nating more powerfully with local businesses and consumers.

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