Because we track locally-driven innovations in health tech across the African continent, we are prototyping a monthly newsletter to share our most “salient” learnings in more real time. We welcome submissions, suggestions.
Funding momentum for African health-tech
As always, at the start of a new year, annual reports on funding are offering insight into fundraising trends across Africa. A new report by Briter Bridges estimates start-ups across the continent received $2.4 billion in funding in 2020. Health start-ups accounted for 9% ($216 million) of the total funding raised–more than double the amount the sector raised in 2019. African telemedicine start-ups proved particularly attractive to investors, raising $43 million in funding.
A recent investment in the sector is the $3.75 million Series A round raised by Ilara Health in December to scale its provision of diagnostic tools to patients and healthcare providers across, and beyond, Kenya. The funding also boosts the start-up’s plans to develop an integrated patient health management platform.
The financing momentum for Africa’s health-tech sector is set to continue as the European Investment Bank has launched an inaugural €50 million pharmaceutical investment initiative in partnership with the Malta-based kENUP Foundation. The investment will be aimed at reducing dependency on imported medicines across the continent as well as addressing vulnerabilities in medical supply chains, with a particular focus on COVID-19.
It however remains to be seen if the funding blitz will begin to play out more evenly on the continent, especially across Francophone Africa where venture capital investment has been lagging, forcing angel investors to bridge long-running financing gaps.
African governments’ race to contain COVID-19 and the continued role of health innovators
As a second wave of COVID-19 gains traction across the continent, the subject of local access to vaccines becomes even more topical. With limited supply expected from vaccines developed in the West, African governments are increasingly looking East, to China, India and Russia, for vaccine supplies. Securing access to these vaccines will prove crucial in Africa’s worst affected countries, including South Africa which has the highest rate of second wave COVID-19 infections.
Temie Giwa-Tubosun, founder of LifeBank, a Nigeria-based health-tech start-up, won the 2020 Global Citizen Prize for Business Leader, in recognition of her start-up’s contributions to combat COVID-19 in Nigeria. LifeBank launched drive-in test centres in two Nigerian states, in partnership Nigerian Institute of Medical Research. The start-up also facilitated free oxygen supplies to Covid-19 patients.
The contribution of health and tech innovators to beating the pandemic is set to continue as start-ups with supply chain expertise could yet be involved in intra-country distribution of the vaccines when African governments secure supply batches.
More evidence of COVID-19’s impact on accelerating digital adoption in health
Last year, M-TIBA, the Kenyan health-financing platform launched by telecoms giant Safaricom, reached record levels of adoption and use since its founding in 2015. As more healthcare providers increasingly turned to mobile and digital solutions amid movement restrictions due to the pandemic, M-TIBA saw its digital transaction volumes reach their highest ever levels and processed over $23 million healthcare-related payments in 2020.
Still in Kenya, askNivi has also reported a notable spike in interactions via its chatbot as users turned to digital solutions to source information on COVID-19, as well as sexual and reproductive health, amid the pandemic. askNivi users aged 25-34 years old more than doubled within the first eight months of 2020.
Over in Senegal, the national government is partnering with GAVI, the global vaccine alliance, to introduce an app to provide real-time order tracking and stock management for essential vaccines amid supply chain disruptions due to COVID-19. The app works with limited or no internet connection to ensure access for last-mile healthcare workers in rural locations and may also be adopted to manage supply data for COVID-19 vaccines as well.
African health-tech players continue to innovate to maximize public health impact
eHealth Africa’s use of geospatial data to map remote settlements played a vital role in Nigeria being declared polio-free last year. The start-up’s work with satellite imagery and data saw it map remote settlements in eleven states in the country. This work resulted in up to 60% more settlements being included in immunization campaigns in one state.
And as part of a project led by Nigeria’s Ministry of Health to boost national access to contraceptives and the uptake of family planning methods, information service start-up askNivi is aiming to boost local access to quality information on reproductive health through its AI-powered chatbot. Online campaigns will aim to increase engagement with residents in Lagos and Kaduna via WhatsApp with the end goal of improving public trust in the project and recommending contraceptive methods.