By Cecilia Ologunagba
Abuja, Oct. 29, 2020 The COVID-19 pandemic has galvanised the development of more than 120 health technology innovations that had been piloted or adopted in Africa, a new World Health Organisation (WHO) analysis says.
The WHO Regional Office for Africa, located in Brazzaville, Congo, stated this in a statement posted on its website.
According to the global body, the study of 1,000 new or modifications of existing technologies that have been developed worldwide to target different areas of the COVID-19 response, finds that Africa accounts for 12.8 per cent of the innovations.
“The response areas include: surveillance, contact tracing, community engagement, treatment, laboratory systems and infection, prevention and control.
“ln Africa, 57.8 per cent of the technologies were ICT-driven, 25 per cent were based on 3D printing and 10.9 per cent were robotics.
“The ICT-based innovations include: WhatsApp Chatbots in South Africa, self-diagnostic tools in Angola, contact tracing apps in Ghana and mobile health information tools in Nigeria.
“The countries with the most innovations are: South Africa (13 per cent), Kenya (10 per cent), Nigeria (8 per cent) and Rwanda (6 per cent),” the statement read in part.
It also quoted Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, as saying, “COVID-19 is one of the most serious health challenges in a generation. But, it is also an opportunity to drive forward innovation, ingenuity and entrepreneurship in life-saving health technologies.
“It’s great to see the youthful energy of the continent fired up to fight COVID-19 through solar-powered automatic handwashing tools, mobile applications that build on Africa’s rapidly growing connectivity.
“These home-grown innovations are uniquely adapted to the African context.”
According to the World Intellectual Property Organisation, the more developed an economy is the more it innovates and vice versa, but some economies break this pattern by performing better or worse than predicted.
Sub-Saharan Africa is the region with the largest number of economies performing above expectations for their level of development.
According to WHO, while this is encouraging, investment is vital to further spark innovation on the continent
“A study by the World Bank Group reports that African countries, at around 0.01 per cent per capita, invest far less in innovation than developed countries and the continent is not living up to its potential.’’
The statement further quoted Moeti as saying, “The pandemic has put a fresh impetus on the need to invest in innovation and to put the right policies and strategic frameworks in place to unleash African ingenuity on the world.
“We know that investing in innovation yields huge dividends. With COVID-19 and other health threats becoming part of our daily life, there’s no time to waste in creating the right environment for African innovators to flourish.”
WHO recommended greater investment in ICT infrastructure, robotics, artificial intelligence, drones and mechatronics as well as putting the right policies in place to boost creativity and entrepreneurship and to bolster university-led research.
Earlier this year, all 47 African member-states in the WHO African Region adopted a WHO strategy for scaling up health innovations in Africa.
By 2023, 80 per cent of all the member-states agreed that they would perform needs’ assessments to identify critical gaps in their health systems and would have established coordination mechanisms to scale up the innovations.
Seventy-five per cent would have developed policies and incentive frameworks, and half would have developed analytical tools to assess the economic and social impacts of the innovations.
The WHO Regional Office for Africa has created a global database of innovations to share knowledge, ideas and successes, as well as set up a COVID-19 technology access pool to share intellectual property and data.
The inaugural WHO health innovation challenge, which aimed at tackling some of the most pressing health needs of the world’s most vulnerable populations, included 2,400 entries from 44 African countries.