Despite the rapid development of technology and communication infrastructure in many low-income and lower-middle-income countries, these resources are often underutilized or ineffectively applied to health care. Yet a strong digital health infrastructure is fundamental for countries moving toward universal health coverage and achieving health equity.
Two main factors have contributed to the shortfall: traditional donor models have neglected the development of local entrepreneurs in the digital health space, and many investment decisions have incentivized innovation in digital health but have not made the same investments in the scale and sustainability of promising technologies.
The Digital Health Ecosystem (DHE) project supports the sustainability and expansion of digital tools for health by helping locally based entrepreneurs more easily access financing, technical resources, and opportunities for scale. The DHE project seeks to foster a global network of innovators building businesses on common open-source platforms, enabling innovators to focus on unmet needs while leveraging existing code.
By using open-source platforms, innovators will likely face fewer barriers in scaling businesses that support health care workers and communities with tools to improve the quality, speed, accessibility, and equity of care. Furthermore, when these tools are adaptable to different countries and contexts, they become “global goods.”
As more countries seek to leverage local talent and expertise, it is our hope that we can provide a platform for these entrepreneurs and key stakeholders to make those connections. This approach can lead to digital solutions that are more fit-for-purpose and sustainable.
Calling all Africa-based digital health entrepreneurs
In July 2022, the DHE project, funded by Bayer and led by PATH and Medic, released a Call for Expressions of Interest: Africa-based Digital Health Entrepreneurs to Expand Tools for Community Health. In support of this effort, Digital Square at PATH invited African businesses, organizations, and social entrepreneurs with software, content, and/or services to participate. The objective was to create a continent-wide list of qualifying respondents that could be available to donors, investors, and implementing partners worldwide.
A diverse, expert review
PATH was pleasantly surprised to see an overwhelming response, with a total of 175 submissions from 25 African countries. The six countries with the most submissions were Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, and Uganda. The submissions presented a wide array of offerings on topics such as telehealth, electronic medical records, supply chain systems, patient scheduling, and data use. More than half of the technologies have been on the market for three or more years. Of those, more than half have been available for five or more years, and a notable number have been available for at least ten years, representing a healthy mix of market maturity.
“This work is one of the largest focused efforts to identify local providers who have an interest in leveraging global goods for the health space,” notes Carl Fourie, Deputy Director of Global Goods, Digital Square, PATH. “For the global goods community, it brings to the conversation numerous potential collaborators. This push is a strong step toward better localization and in-country support for health tools.”
“This work is one of the largest focused efforts to identify local providers who have an interest in leveraging global goods for the health space.”— Carl Fourie, Deputy Director of Global Goods, Digital Square, PATH
All submissions were evaluated by a steering committee comprising a diverse set of the foremost leaders and thinkers in digital health technology, including representatives from country governments, donor organizations, implementing organizations, technology vendors, and other groups. The final, vetted list consists of 112 of the 175 submissions received. Access and learn more about how to use the list here.
“Bringing African digital solution providers to the forefront will enable easy access, local adaptation, and better adoption of these solutions by public health systems across the African continent,” says Manish Pant, Policy Specialist–Digital Health, United Nations Development Programme.
“Bringing African digital solution providers to the forefront will enable easy access, local adaptation, and better adoption of these solutions by public health systems across the African continent.”— Manish Pant, Policy Specialist–Digital Health, UN Development Prog.
Digital Square at PATH is proactively following up with participants to assess what type of engagement resulted from this resource and how we can structure future public calls. We’re also soliciting feedback on the value of the list via an online survey.
This coming year, the DHE project will work with up to six local entrepreneurs to assess the maturity of their organizational development by measuring seven capacity areas: leadership, operational efficiency, service delivery, external engagement, planning, resources, and technical capacity. The assessment will identify areas for targeted capacity-strengthening efforts to improve overall effectiveness and sustainability.