7-8 JUNE 2017 / Tour & Taxis / Brussels

Digital Disruption of Development: the impact on Inclusive Healthcare

Digital Disruption of Development: the impact on Inclusive Healthcare

Leveraging on digital technology to accelerate healthcare solidarity

Wednesday, June 7, 2017 - 16:15 to 17:30

Key points

  • Can new technology make healthcare more accessible?
  • How can technology from one field be exploited to increase healthcare outcomes
  • Can technology be exploited to fill some of the healthcare gaps?
  • Private versus public sector?


Fifteen per cent of the world’s poorest people live in Africa; Africans bear 25 % of global diseases and receive only 2 % of total global healthcare. If we can harness new technological developments, we can ameliorate these figures and make positive changes to people’s lives.

This session brought together a range of providers with different experiences who are using technology to create change in Africa. M-Pesa, the mobile money facility developed by Vodafone, began in Kenya but is now live in 10 countries and serves 29.5 million customers.

This technology platform is being exploited and extended into the healthcare sector. The company has found that once people become familiar with the basic money-sending service, they are more likely to tap into other financial services. It is now possible, for example, for people to use the platform to save for healthcare. It can also be used to pay for specific treatments and services; for instance, to pay ambulance drivers to take pregnant women to hospital.

Mobile money was also used to good effect during the Ebola crisis, to send payments to people working in isolated areas who were conducting burials or digging graves. It is thought this had an important role in helping to bring the crisis under control. M-Pesa has been extraordinarily successful. Recently published independent research by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, carried out over several years, puts the poverty reduction effect of this technology at 2 % across Kenya. And it has also benefited the company’s bottom line.

New technology is also being developed to help train surgeons: 150 million people in Africa are not getting the surgery they need. It is now possible, using a variety of methods and training programmes that are accredited and regulated, to bring those skills to a greater number of medical personnel.

In Ghana, technology is being exploited to improve efficiency and transparency in the healthcare system. The most successful examples have been in the private sector, where it makes up 40 % of the sector but delivers 45 % of the positive outcomes. In this case, “smart money” can be used both to provide money to people who have delivered a healthcare service but who are awaiting payment and to provide a “cash advance” for services not yet delivered.

During the session there was some debate as to the merits of private versus public healthcare providers in their ability to exploit technology and bring improved services to market. Panellists all found private sector solutions more flexible and open and less prone to corruption. However, it was thought that the public sector also had a lot to offer in terms of partnerships and in providing the necessary regulatory frameworks.

Questions were asked about privacy and access to medical records once they were held electronically. However, while these could be seen as an issue, the benefits were considered to outweigh the disadvantages.

The advent of “block chain”, sometimes described as the second era of the internet, was also debated. Participants generally thought it seemed interesting but it was not yet clear how it could be successfully exploited in this sector.


If developed appropriately and exploited effectively, technological advances could be a real game-changer in access to and delivery of healthcare services in Africa.

Organised by

    Alexander Kohnstamm
    Director Advocacy
    Joep Lange Institute
    Maxwell Antwi
    Country Director, Ghana
    PharmAccess Foundation
    Alec Behrens
    Hans Docter
    Director, Sustainable Economic Development
    Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands
    Laura Crow
    Principal Product Development Manager M-Pesa
    Vodafone PLC
Photo gallery

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