Vodacom’s e-health policy paper released recently as part of the Africa.connected campaign has revealed a rise in the number of people engaging with digital health services through their smartphones. This rise has created vast potential for countries to deliver access to healthcare digitally.

Based on research and personal insights from recipients across the continent, Vodacom’s e-health policy paper tells a story of Africa on the cusp of digital health transformation.

The campaign, which was launched earlier this year by Vodacom, Vodafone and Safaricom, aims to accelerate economic recovery across the continent by helping drive digital inclusion. The first of a series of six policy papers, the e-health paper provides key insights around the role of technology in elevating the healthcare sector, a focus area of development highlighted by COVID-19.

Commenting on the e-health paper report, Vodacom Group CEO Shameel Joosub said, “In many ways, the pandemic has also opened our eyes to new possibilities in the healthcare space. Our ability to deliver on the promise of digital solutions at scale presents enormous opportunity, not only when it comes to the reach of healthcare services, but also to dramatically improved health outcomes at decreased costs.”

While Governments are accelerating formal digital health strategies, consumers are increasing their engagement with digital health services via their smartphones. It is projected that by 2025, smartphone reach in sub-Saharan Africa will increase by almost 70%.

As a result, informal use of digital healthcare solutions has increased, with 41% of internet users across Africa regularly using their mobile phones to search for health information. Digital health apps have also seen increased usage during the pandemic.

Though the rise in engagement with informal healthcare systems is creating new opportunity, there is also significant risk in circumventing formal systems. Concerns range from privacy and the security of personal data to medical misinformation, which is a very real threat when it comes to social media.

To avoid the risks associated with healthcare workers and citizens going outside of formal systems, the architecture of a national health ecosystem must be led by Government. As such, the report has called for more partnerships between the public sector and digital health providers on formal systems.