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Without Health We Have Nothing 1

Gabriel Oke

By Gabriel Oke

Contributions of Digital healthcare solutions to Healthcare access in Nigeria

Dr Laz Ude Eze answers questions on HPHR Fellow Gabriel Oke's vlog series

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The challenge

According to Data Commons, Nigeria has a large population of about 206 million, and access to healthcare has been described as “difficult” for the poorest of the population. Two solutions that can increase healthcare access include large health insurance coverage and high uptake of digital health solutions. 

   

Health insurance should have helped to provide for basic healthcare provisions of Nigerians but as of 2018, about 97 percent of people surveyed in Nigeria did not have any health insurance. People with health insurance mainly have employer-based coverage. Together, this means the majority of those who have small businesses and are self-employed cannot access basic healthcare services at affordable costs. Nigeria’s National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) was created in 2005 to address this problem, but it only covers about 5% of Nigerians today, leaving about 70% who still finance their healthcare through Out-Of-Pocket (OOP) expenditure.

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The opportunity

Digital health can be deployed to prevent high disease prevalence and to lower healthcare costs while helping patients monitor and manage chronic conditions. It can also help to tailor medicine for individual patients. Both healthcare providers and patients stand to benefit from these capabilities.

   

Digital solutions can be deployed on mobile phones and wearable devices, such as smartwatches, to provide health services, information, and data collection. In Nigeria, where the ratio of available healthcare workers to the population is low, digital healthcare solutions can help increase healthcare access through telemedicine; collect health data; and deliver healthcare information to practitioners, researchers, and patients.

   

The use of technology in healthcare has grown as more people understand the importance and utility of telemedicine and digital health solutions. This was evident during the COVID19 lockdown because a lot of people could not access traditional healthcare. During the lockdown, more people embraced digital health solutions. This can be counted as one of the gains from the COVID-19 pandemic which must be sustained.

I believe telemedicine is the best thing that has happened in Nigeria. It is very economical and accessible. Doctors are also well-trained

Obaidu Theresa

For more on how Tremendoc helped Obaidu access healthcare during the COVID19 pandemic, see here.

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Challenges preventing the scalability of Digital solutions

Obaidu Theresa also emphasized how important it is for Healthcare professionals to be trained on how to use the platforms. The implementation of digital health in Nigeria remains difficult due to the prevalence of certain challenges related to infrastructure and resources, public perception, and health system integration. Other challenges include electricity, internet coverage, weak health systems governance, weak infrastructural investments, inadequate resources, weak human resource capacity, high cost of scaling-up, and coordination issues. 

Current solutions and way forward

Nigerian entrepreneurs have seized the opportunity to create solutions. These digital solutions include online health insurance subscription plans by Avon HMO; telemedicine by Kangpe, tremendoc and Mobidoc; medical devices by MDaaS; blood center services by Lifebank; clinical reference information and e-learning by Medenhanz; medication supply by Medsaf and Drugstoc; and the phenomenal aviation emergency ambulance, Flying Doctors Nigeria

    

These organizations have helped to increase healthcare access to Nigerians. They have also helped to reduce the time it takes to access healthcare services. And n a way, the cost of accessing healthcare has been reduced. For example, solutions providing easy access to basic healthcare have a lot of subscribers, which allows them to have packages for less than $10 per month for subscribers who cannot afford larger health insurance contributions per month.

    

Seeing these successes, the government needs to make it easy to deploy the available solutions by addressing the scale-up challenges. Increasing the public’s awareness can also help increase uptake of digital health in Nigeria. It is important for people who are enjoying digital solutions to inform the people around them about the benefits, just like they spread the news of other software applications that are beneficial to them on their phone, because the benefit of digital solutions can be best enjoyed when the reach is wide and subscribers are
many. The larger the pool and reach, the more the platforms can improve on the services they provide. 

You can follow Dr Laz Ude’s Thought leadership posts here: Laz Ude

References

1. Ifeanyi Nsofor: Without Health, we have nothing (TedxOguiRoad, 2018). Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u4r_0TLTBQw

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