A Better Future
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A Better Future

Africa’s Healthcare in the Data-Driven Age.

How epione.net is confronting data colonialism.

Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

It’s inevitable that soon healthcare will be primarily driven by technology.

Tech companies will be at the center of the transformation into the new world of healthcare that will be enabled by analytical tools like mobile apps. Consistently, healthcare will majorly focus on prevention, diagnostics, and digital solutions.

As argued by Nina Elmi, head of government affairs at the World Economic Forum, Europe, America and China are already driving the world into the future digital solutions powered by data, and it’s up to Africa to either join the data-driven age as drivers, spectators, or reluctant participants.

One of the most significant challenges that warrant Africa to be a driver in the data-driven age is vastly under-resourced and overwhelmed healthcare systems. As noted in a 2017 report by the United Nations, even though Africa has 25 percent of the world’s disease burden, it only budgets for a cumulative 1 percent of the global healthcare expenditure.

he center of the transformation into the new world of healthcare that will be enabled by analytical tools like mobile apps. Consistently, healthcare will majorly focus on prevention, diagnostics, and digital solutions.

As argued by Nina Elmi, head of government affairs at the World Economic Forum, Europe, America and China are already driving the world into the future digital solutions powered by data, and it’s up to Africa to either join the data-driven age as drivers, spectators, or reluctant participants.

One of the most significant challenges that warrant Africa to be a driver in the data-driven age is vastly under-resourced and overwhelmed healthcare systems. As noted in a 2017 report by the United Nations, even though Africa has 25 percent of the world’s disease burden, it only budgets for a cumulative 1 percent of the global healthcare expenditure.

Consequently, resulting in uneven access to healthcare, a majority of Africans are unable to access proper medical care due to underfunded healthcare institutions. The argument from various studies is that if there is going to be any turnaround, it will result from ingenuity.

epione.net

epione.net is a health-tech company currently operating in South Africa and Zimbabwe that has in its core the ingenuity to cause a turnaround in the healthcare sector. It is trying to change how healthcare is accessed and experienced by all the players in the healthcare value chain from patients, to clinicians, to laboratories, to hospitals in what is arguably a much-needed drive towards shaping the future of healthcare in Africa.

Founded in 2017 by four young globally experienced Africans, — Garikai Govati, Rhobhi Matinyi, Frai Chikumbu, and Jessica Chivinge, epione.net is the only platform in Africa that seamlessly connects every stakeholder collaborating on a patients case — starting with the patient.

left to right — Garikai Govati, Rhobhi Matinyi, Jessica Chivinge, and Frai Chikumbu

In the last three years, they have consistently built a digital solution to address the continental-wide challenge of fragmented, inefficient expensive, and unequivocal access to healthcare in Africa by connecting all stakeholders in the healthcare value chain. In order to drive efficiencies and foster collaboration, while also providing them with a single, accurate and secure source of patient information, and is also agile enough to work across the African continent — the first of its kind.

Notably, epione.net was crucial in addressing the immediate outbreak response and impact mitigation at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and were among the health-tech companies featured by Aljezeera as digital healthcare solutions in the effort to address the potential impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in South Africa.

And even though Africa largely defied predictions of massive deaths due to COVID-19 mainly fostered by colonialist thinking and a deeply rooted aid-dependency ideology, access to affordable quality healthcare remains a monumental challenge that can be significantly leveraged through innovative digital solutions.

Since 2018, we’ve had in-depth conversations with Jessica Chivinge, epione.net’s COO, on the role the start-up company wants to play in shaping the future of healthcare in Africa. I’ve since then drawn three significant ways in which epione.net will make healthcare affordable and accessible in the data-driven age.

First, by confronting data colonialism. Secondly, expanding its testing capability to ensure more people can easily monitor their symptoms concerning COVID-19 and other infectious diseases. Thirdly, by focusing on a patient-driven healthcare system whose primary aim is to ensure personal health for everyone.

In the following section, we will briefly explore the first significant challenge; Confronting data colonialism.

1. Confronting data Colonialism

Africa is highly prone to data colonialism due to vague and varied data laws. Consequently, this has resulted in big-tech companies like Facebook and Tik Tok having unfettered access to the massive amount of human data across the continent.

Data colonialism is driven by the control of data as a proxy for Humans and is rapidly becoming the reality faced by developing countries today.

Despite human data being considered the world’s most valuable resource, Africa’s human data is largely controlled by the big-tech companies located in Silicon Valley or Shenzhen. This is hindering Africans from using their technological innovations based on their indigenous data and ensuring data ownership is not always within the individual and the government’s reach.

epione.net’s design purposely addresses data colonialism in Africa with a design that contains the strictest global security standards. The epione.net team does not sacrifice data security for anything and the platform is built with the African context in mind and is transparent in how patient data is protected. In particular, it’s a product that catapults Africa ahead of the world by making it a front-runner concerning COVID-19 solutions and secure health tech.

The start-up company ensures that patients own their data and can access their own medical health records at any time. Patients also ultimately decide who can access their information and electronic health record. Its compliance with the Protection of Personal Information (POPI) in South Africa is crucial for ensuring epione.net complies with the South African governments’ regulatory standards. Its compliance with GDPR also ensures its likely compliance across the continent more broadly.

Jessica insists that by meeting the strictest of global security standards, epione.net will not only address data colonialism but will make data reachable for both the individual and governments looking to design effective population health interventions and run more efficient health systems by adopting a data-driven approach to decision-making:

It will place us ahead regarding ownership of healthcare data, and I think it has the opportunity to make us very efficient within the healthcare space — pulling everyone within the healthcare platform.
As Africans, we can leapfrog the rest of the world technologically … and it’s already happening in various areas like fin-tech and healthcare.

Jessica Chivinge and John B. Oyaro on #ABetterFuture.

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Signature Journal Afrika

(SJA) is a platform that gives a voice to Africans in areas of Governance, Health, and ICT.