Digital health interventions deploy the enabling capacities of Industry 4.0 technologies, notably the Internet of Things to strengthen health care systems:
· It overcomes distance, by enabling remote monitoring, diagnostics, therapeutics.
· It simplifies logistics, by eliminating travel.
· It improves the quality of diagnosis and treatment by supporting and enabling health care workers.
· It enhances training possibilities of health care professionals.
· It enables reliable data production, collection and analysis which assists health care professionals and public health officials to diagnose, treat and manage patients and health systems more efficiently.
· It can play an important role in improving patient safety, raising awareness, training health care professionals and empowering patients and families.
· It introduces new technologies, mostly computer supported, such as robotics and additive manufacturing of prosthetics and implants, which unlocks new possibilities in the fields of medicine and health care.
· In essence, it supports health care professionals and systems to pursue healthy lives for all people of all ages, and promote their well-being (United Nations Sustainable Development Goal #3).
Africa, and in particular Sub-Sahara Africa, is renowned for its remoteness, scarcity of health care professionals and funding constraints within health systems. But it also has a predominantly youthful population (more than 40% of the SSA population is estimated to be younger than 15 years), with strong technology adoption skills, and a landscape with strong user penetration of mobile smart phones. These deliver great prospects for digital health interventions to be successfully deployed in the region. In fact, 41 of 54 African countries have national digital health strategies and architectures, to exploit its potential benefits.
However, several critical support measures are required to harness benefits from digital health interventions. Enabling environments need to be created that are:
· addressing barriers such as low digital literacy skills and the shortage of connectivity;
· firmly anchored within the local context;
· driven by African needs and led by local specialists;
· supportive of locally innovated solutions;
· endorsed by decision makers such as national governments; and
· supported by global key players such as the United Nations and WHO.
These aspects require committed contributions from multi-disciplinary teams of experts. At Grace Onyango Foundation, we believe that the contributions of scientists and engineers from Universities and Research Institutions on the African continent should be harnessed through a coordinated, collaborative and Pan-African framework. We strive to be that platform for the field of digital health innovation.
The Challenges we tackle
The members of Grace Onyango Foundation aim to address a number of interrelated challenges:
1. Our members develop digital health solutions to bridge some critical gaps in support of national health systems; we believe digitech can assist clinicians to reach and help millions more patients;
2. Our members pursue Pan-African collaborations between scientists, engineers and clinicians: disease and poor health knows no borders and are too big to tackle alone; and
3. Our members encourage and facilitate for African scientists and engineers to play a lead role in crafting digital health solutions for our continent; we have willing and able home grown talent.
The Grace Onyango Foundation supports its members to achieve the above, by facilitating strategic international collaboration and fundraising for members’ projects.
How we operate
We help our members to design and develop digital health solutions for Africa. These solutions should drive impact in depth and breadth, be scalable, be cost-clever and be sustainable.
We engage with clinicians and public health officials to understand their needs and encourage them to support and implement our solutions.
We encourage African owned intellectual property.
We encourage start-up and youth owned businesses to take our solutions to market.
We encourage international collaboration, particularly amongst the African diaspora.
We are a newborn Foundation, but we have big dreams. We are in the process of creating our structures and capacitating ourselves. We have no staff yet. We have volunteer board members from our founding institutions. We have a growing grassroots supporter base, both in Africa and abroad.
Our members are busy aligning their in-house research foci and projects, in order to augment our initial list of members projects:
1. DHI4A: Several members are working to establish a Digital Health Institute for Africa, with a multi-hub model, for the development of mobile apps which support health care in the widest sense.
2. Med-E-Hive: The North-West University has established a commercialization vehicle for a portfolio of digital health projects in various stages of development and in a variety of fields, spanning remote monitoring of ventilators to speech therapy and nutrition monitoring in infants and newborns. (www.med-e-hive.com)
3. Cybathlon: Our member universities aim to enter teams into the next Cybathlon 2024 competition, which occurs every 4 years in Switzerland. Hosted by the ETH Zurich, the competition challenges engineers and health care experts to develop assistive technologies, including prosthetics, suitable for everyday use with and for people with disabilities. https://cybathlon.ethz.ch/en . It requires multidisciplinary collaborations between engineers, physiologists, human movement science specialists and psychologists. Our members believe that competence and capacity building in Africa will enable and support the elderly, and the many patients with disabilities from birth, accidents or civil war.
4. Facial Reconstruction: We want to transfer skills from one of the leading R&D hubs for facial reconstruction using 3D printed implants, the CRPM at Central University of Technology, to other members in East Africa and beyond. This could change the lives and livelihoods of patients with facial birth defects, trauma wounds and cancer.
5. Further projects, some at sensitive stages of discussion with industry partners, amongst others for 4D printing of high-pigmented skin for burn wound victims.
We are committed to creating and strengthening partnerships that together drive change in healthcare in Africa and beyond and would love to connect with like-minded individuals and organizarions
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