COVID-19 spurs health innovation in Africa


The COVID-19 pandemic has galvanized the development of more than 120 health technology innovations that have been piloted or adopted in Africa, a new World Health Organization (WHO) analysis finds.
The study of 1000 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% of the innovations. The response areas include surveillance, contact tracing, community engagement, treatment, laboratory systems and infection, prevention and control.
In Africa, 57.8% of the technologies were ICT-driven, 25% were based on 3D printing and 10.9% 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 were South Africa (13%), Kenya (10%), Nigeria (8%) and Rwanda (6%).
“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,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa. “It’s great to see the youthful energy of the continent fired up to fight COVID-19. 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 Organization 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. 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 capita, invest far less in innovation than developed countries and the continent is not living up to its potential.