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AI can reduce Africa's Doctor Deficit (2 mins read)

"If there is any area of healthcare in Africa where there is need for artificial intelligence, it is in primary care"


Adebayo Alonge

Africa business strategy and venture capital expert


There are too few primary healthcare professionals in Africa and the chart above indicates this gap very clearly. In Sub-Sahara Africa, there is only 1 doctor per 5,000 people, in Europe, there are ~18 doctors.


Deficits are acute in rural areas and towns further from economic hubs. In Nigeria for example, the further you go from Lagos, Abuja and Port-Harcourt , the fewer doctors you will find.


This has immense health outcomes implications. Many parts of Africa are low in the rankings with regards life expectancy, maternal and child mortality and trauma morbidities. Too many of Africa's brightest die needlessly in childbirth and due to medical conditions that are preventable.


Take for example the recent case of a serving para-military graduate in Nigeria - Oladapo Ifedolapo who died within 24 hours of receiving an injection as a result of anaphylactic reactions or renal sepsis- nobody knows the exact situation. She was seen by young primary doctors (just fresh out of medical school) and died as a nurse watched over her as she waited referral to a specialist hospital.


Without excusing the need for setting up an emergency response system and activating medical ethics among negligent medical workers-which is common in Africa as a result of poor accountability systems, this case was one in which artificial intelligence would have been useful.

Through smartphones, patients can login medical complaints. The AI platform pulls up medical histories from EMRs uploaded from her family doctor and triangulates the condition. Sends a preliminary diagnosis, referral, lab and drug test prescription to a call centre of human doctors that review initial recommendations and carry out emergency intervention with young or inexperienced health professionals on the ground.

As care proceeds, test results are uploaded by the lab and the AI scans millions of datasets and recommends treatment or referral as mandated by standards of care. A doctor even if located remotely can then approve the treatment regimen and the patient or her local doctor is notified to proceed to a  specialist clinic or to use a prescribed drug regimen.


There is basic infrastructure that is required for this system to work- data plans and smartphones, established partnerships with public and private health system stakeholders, digitised patient EMR, standardised national protocols for care for common conditions and  access to large datasets of clinical interventions currently sitting in paper across hospitals in Africa.


This is no easy feat but it can be done and it is something is working on.

Contact the platform if you want to know more or if you want to apply your technical skills with them.


About the Author


Adebayo Alonge is a pharmacist and business strategy and finance expert with experience in sales, digital marketing, venture capital and health IT research and entrepreneurship. He is passionate about using strategy, finance and advanced technology to improve health delivery in Africa.


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