Africa is at the heart of tomorrow, it is an important region in the world, it is definitely a growing region and a clear focus market for us. In the big picture, Africa is among Alcatel-Lucent’s most promising markets with ultra-broadband access and IP networking being very important for the development of the continent.
Many Countries across the world have felt the ravaging effects of Covid-19, ever since the first case was reported in Wuhan, China and spread all across other Continents that prompted to measures and directions imposed aimed to curb the spread of the lethal virus that has since claimed millions of people across the globe.
Historically, sectors like education and healthcare have been points of issue for many African countries, as governments strive to improve access to, and experiences in, these sectors.
The fight with COVID-19 has put a spotlight on the way these industries are operating and could improve. However, it also seems to have spurred digital innovation in areas of education and healthcare as people adapt with solutions like online learning and remote medical consultations.
The COVID-19 pandemic crisis has undoubtedly had negative effects in all socio-economic sectors. Africa, as the rest of the world, is experiencing the most unprecedented economic impacts since the Great Depression of the 1930s. The pandemic is reversing the continent’s developmental progress made in recent years. In these unprecedented times, the African Union and African governments have taken measures to limit the spread of the COVID-19 outbreak and mitigate its impacts as well. Related measures include disease control, information, education, payments, provision of government’s services and retail transactions that rely basically on digital platforms and tools. Digitalization has become a high priority despite cyber security attack threats.
With so much changing, an opportunity has been created to improve these two critical sectors by increasing connectivity and fostering the right collaborations between companies and governments. With the ultimate goal of reducing unemployment and putting Africa on the path to economic success, transforming healthcare and education using digital solutions could be an efficient route to take.
Educational disruption as a result of COVID-19
I’ve always believed that economic growth should start from the ground up. That means granting basic education to as many children as possible. But, despite school enrollment rates in 11 African countries increasing by 20% between 1999 and 2012, the number of children attending school could still improve. Reports suggest that 30 million children in Sub-Saharan Africa do not attend school, thereby limiting their chances for meaningful employment further down the line.
Digital solutions could provide hope. A report by the Kenyan government last year found that 86% of Kenyans were aware of education interventions, as lessons were introduced on radio, TV, and the Kenya Education Cloud. With over half of these educational innovations emerging after the COVID-19 outbreak in Kenya, we see how education can be agile in adjusting to national shocks and school closures. The study also found that four in five learning solutions are loaded on a mobile phone, citing WhatsApp platforms and educational apps as the preferred way of learning for many students.
By increasing access to education at a basic level, through a combination of face-to-face teaching and online activity, students are in a better position to enter the job market, or continue their studies at a tertiary level. And, as universities respond to the online learning trend, it’s possible for African students to ‘attend’ classes and ultimately graduate from institutions all over the world. But this ambition hangs on access to powerful and reliable Internet.
Connectivity is powering innovations in healthcare
Can we accept that the other key sector that influences economic growth is healthcare? As service sectors, education and healthcare affect near-term growth and, because they contribute to strengthening the workforce, they are essential for long-term growth too.
Unfortunately, access to quality healthcare remains a major challenge in populous countries like Kenya. While this access is considered a constitutional right, many Kenyan citizens still can’t afford to cover all their health costs at public or private clinics – and only around 25% are covered by a public, private, or community-based health insurance scheme.
However, with the introduction of innovative healthcare services in African countries, solutions to everyday challenges could be solved. Kenya has seen a flurry of growth in digital health, eHealth, and mHealth startups in the last few years, with companies like Baobab Circle and mDaktari+ working to improve healthcare services through online consultations and telehealth programmes. By improving the overall health of citizens, from pre-natal care to chronic illness treatment, African countries could start to benefit from a healthier, more productive workforce. And, in the long term, from more resilient economies.
What else needs to happen?
Not only will developments in these industries lead to a better quality of life for African citizens, but they will help generate employment opportunities across the board. Improved education systems and school enrollments could translate into higher employment numbers and increased productivity. Better healthcare services could provide support and care to everyone in our communities, including the potentially increased workforce. It’s only through this kind of holistic approach to development and wellness that African countries will experience impactful, sustainable economic growth.
In order for these innovations to be successful, various ground-level changes also need to take place. These kinds of digital advancements in education and healthcare depend on widespread and reliable Internet access. In countries where data fees are still relatively high, the public and private sector should work together to lower connectivity costs and provide Internet access to as many citizens as possible, even in remote or hard-to-reach areas. With an Internet penetration rate of only 39% in Africa, there’s certainly room for improvement.
As the age-old sentiment suggests, necessity is the mother of invention. Looking forward, experts predict that the pandemic and improvements in ICT infrastructure will continue to spur rapid digital innovation across the continent. Africa is facing many challenges, but innovative solutions are available to help nations overcome obstacles and build a stronger future for all.