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 phones go flat
Africa’s mobile phone market declined 2.1% quarter on quarter in Q3 2018 according to the latest figures from IDC.
The global technology research and consulting firm newly released Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker shows overall shipments for the quarter totalled 52.6 million units, with feature phone shipments falling 2.7% QoQ and smartphone shipments declining 1.3% over the same period.
Transsion brands (Tecno, Infinix, and Itel) led the feature phone space in Q3 2018, with a combined unit share of 58.2%. Nokia was next in line with 11.7% share. Transsion, Samsung, and Huawei dominated the smartphone space with respective unit shares of 34.9%, 21.7%, and 10.2%. However, in value terms, Samsung led the smartphone market with 37.2% share, followed by Transsion (21.0%) and Huawei (13.0%).
There were differing fortunes in the region’s three major markets, with Nigeria suffering a heavy 11.6% QoQ decline in mobile phone shipments, while South Africa and Kenya saw respective QoQ growth of 8.5% and 7.9% in Q3 2018.
“The decline in Nigeria stemmed from a slowdown in government spending, ongoing warfare in the country’s northern states, and market uncertainty in the lead up to elections,” says George Mbuthia, a research analyst at IDC. “In South Africa, the market’s growth was spurred by the penetration of low-end devices from brands such as Mobicel, Mint, and Nokia, while the launch of entry-level smartphones helped drive growth in Kenya despite increases in taxes and fuel prices placing a significant burden on disposable income in the country.”
While feature phones remain steadfastly popular across Africa, particularly in more rural areas, consumers are increasingly being attracted by smartphone offerings from Chinese brands such as Xiaomi, Oppo, and Huawei, which are actively targeting feature-oriented customers at more economical price points.
“There is a new wave of Chinese brands aggressively pursuing growth opportunities in the region, while the more-established Huawei is also accelerating its marketing efforts and expanding its distribution budget,” says Ramazan Yavuz, a research manager at IDC. “These brands have quickly progressed along the learning curve and evolved their offerings to perfectly reflect the realities of the region by addressing the diverse pricing and feature needs of the consumer base.”
Looking ahead, IDC expects Africa’s overall mobile phone market to reach 58 million units in Q4 2018, spurred by the festive season and online consumer events such as Black Friday. The introduction of more affordable smartphones in the African market will help drive progress in this space over the coming quarters, while the share of feature phones will decline steadily as the transition to smartphones gathers momentum.
Mobile money to cross borders
Orange and MTN launch pan-African mobile money interoperability to scale up mobile financial services across Africa.
Two of Africa’s largest mobile operators and mobile money providers, Orange Group and MTN Group, today announced a joint venture, Mowali (mobile wallet interoperability), to enable interoperable payments across the continent. Mowali makes it possible to send money between mobile money accounts issued by any mobile money provider, in real time and at low cost.
Mowali will immediately benefit from the reach of MTN Mobile Money and Orange Money, bringing together over 100 million mobile money accounts and mobile money operations in 22 of sub-Saharan Africa’s 46 markets. Mowali is ready to enable interoperability between digital financial service providers beyond MTN and Orange operations and markets, to support the existing 338 million mobile money accounts in Africa.
Mowali is a digital payment infrastructure that connects financial service providers and customers in one inclusive network. It functions as an industry utility, open to any mobile money provider in Africa, including banks, money transfer operators and other financial service providers.
The objective of Mowali is to increase the usage of mobile money by consumers and merchants. Mowali enables money to circulate freely between mobile money accounts from any operators in all countries. From the customer’s point of view, this means “I can pay or receive money anywhere from my mobile account regardless of my operator”. The system will unlock further innovation in the digital financial space within the continent.
For Stéphane Richard, Chairman & CEO of Orange, “by providing full interoperability between platforms, Mowali will provide an important step forward that will allow mobile money to become a universal means of payment in Africa. Increasing financial inclusion through the use of digital technology is an essential element in furthering the economic development of Africa, particularly for more isolated communities. This solution embodies Orange’s ambition to be a leading player in the digital transformation of the continent. By joining forces with another of Africa’s market leaders, MTN, we aim to accelerate the pace of this transformation in a way that will change the lives of our customers by providing them with simpler, safer and more advantageous services. “
“One of MTN’s goals is to accelerate the penetration of mobile financial services in Africa, Mowali is one such vehicle that will help us achieve that objective. Furthermore, co-operation and partnerships that help us accelerate the pace of development and overcome some of the scale, scope and complexity of challenges that society faces are key. This partnership with Orange is therefore an important step in helping us play a meaningful role in supporting the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals related to eliminating extreme poverty and enhancing socio-economic development in the markets we operate in and beyond. Thus giving our customers access to a bright, digital future.” said Rob Shuter, Group President and CEO of MTN.
The GSMA supports the Mowali initiative as interoperability at this scale is a key accelerator for both financial inclusion and Mobile Money usability across Africa. “Today, there are over 690 million mobile money accounts around the world. Mobile money services have become an essential, life-changing tool across Africa, providing access to safe and secure financial services but also to energy, health, education and employment opportunities. The creation of Mowali will help to further transform mobile financial services throughout the African region. It demonstrates the mobile industry’s continued leadership and commitment to driving financial inclusion and economic empowerment through industry collaboration. The GSMA is proud to support its development,” said Mats Granryd, Director General, GSMA.
“Interoperability of digital payments has been the toughest hurdle for the financial services industry to overcome, in support of financial inclusion. With Mowali, Orange and MTN deliver a solution that will enable them, and other companies, to scale digital financial services across Africa, faster, to everyone—including the poor,” said Kosta Peric, deputy director of Financial Services for the Poor, at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation “This is a signal that a new wave of innovation, which can help alleviate poverty and drive economic opportunity, is coming. We’re pleased to see an implementation of Mojaloop—an open source payment platform available to operators across the sector—help achieve that.”