Health Innovation is key to eradicating the Covid-19 crisis

In his speech to the nation on July 30, 2021, President Yoweri Museveni partially reopened most parts of the economy after 42-days of the lockdown.  This was after the percentage of people testing positive for COVID-19 drastically dropped from 21 per cent to 10 per cent, largely attributed to limited human interaction and movement.

During this period, the country witnessed the rise of health innovation in mitigating the pandemic. Top of mind is the Covidex drug produced by the Jena Herbal limited which was approved by the Uganda Drug Authority as a supportive treatment in management of viral infections

Experts have urged that for the economy to fully recover from the impact of the pandemic, 80% of the country’s population needs to be fully vaccinated. In Uganda, the statistics of people vaccinated still stands  at 1.15 million in which 4,129 are fully vaccinated. For a population of 44 million people, these numbers leave a lot to be desired. 

However, the low levels of vaccination in Uganda and African continent has been attributed to the scarcity of supply of the Covid-19 vaccines, leaving few doses available for scramble among nations. 

While commissioning the Biological Drugs and mRNA (Messenger Rigonucliec Acid) vaccine facility in Matuga, Wakiso District last month. President Museveni said the government remains committed to funding research and innovations in the country. “By 2022 Uganda will be able to make and distribute its own vaccine. Through the mRNA facility, vaccines will be manufactured locally and readily made available in the country to help us combat the health and economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.” 

However, he added, for now we need individual input for strict adherence to the Covid-19 Standard Operating Procedures, if we are to survive another wave. 

Indeed as the country emerges from a lockdown, there is collective concern about how we can prevent the rates of infection from rising once more, which will propel us into more destructive waves. The biggest concerns lie around, access to essential services like food, medicine, markets and education while observing standard operating procedures. 

Hilder Koriong who juggles many roles as a Clinician, Student of Medicine and Surgery and an innovator in the health industry, says that the pandemic can be managed in two ways. First, the country needs to prioritise the already proven method of the 3Ts, which is, Test Trace and Treat coupled with vaccination and other preventive measures.

In order for these to happen within the boundaries of the Standard Operating Procedures, Koriong offers the solution of digital contact over physical contact. 

She says that through smartphones, it’s easy to trace and maintain the communication necessary that enables functionality. Digital contact in health is a solution that Koriong has already tried and tested through an innovation that she founded in 2020, Afro-Health Connect.

With Afro Health Connect,  the hospital experience has been digitised through the use of social media as a public health tool to dispense health related information, provide home-based care, coupled with a virtual follow up visits from medical personnel to deliver well-deserved healthcare at the comfort of patients. 

 Koriong says, “From the results so far, Digital health is a game-changer that will transform healthcare because home-based diagnostic devices greatly improve patient experience and treatment outcomes.” To make this sustainable, Koriong states that innovators around health need support from the government and private sector.

“Government should support Telehealth enterprises and incorporate them into the startup policy. We need a Telehealth Bill tabled in parliament to streamline healthcare and improve access to health services. Healthcare has to be aligned across all service providers to ensure that it meets international standards. This legislation is an important step towards breaking down discriminatory geographic restrictions and modernizing our healthcare delivery”  Koriong said. 

Further adding, entrepreneurs in the health industry need to be supported with continuous mentorship support and access to a network of industry leaders, grants, and investment opportunities. 

Vanessa Tandekwiire, the Next Wave Program Portfolio Manager at The Innovation Village says, the voices and needs of innovators like Koriong are what have prompted The Innovation Village to put in place initiatives like The 97 Covid Relief Fund and the Covid 19 Rebound programme to help innovations in the health sector.

In 2020, with the support of The Mastercard Foundation, The Innovation Village set up the 97 Covid Relief Fund to invest in businesses at early-stage and Small and Medium Enterprise (SMEs) in the sectors of Healthcare and Pharmaceuticals, E-Commerce, Supply Chains and Logistics providing ambitious unique solutions during the pandemic. Now 10 startups have been supported by the fund. 

Further still, The Innovation Village with the support of the Mastercard Foundation launched the COVID-19 Rebound Programme to aid the recovery of innovative businesses that are providing services and employment during and post-pandemic. 

Tandekwiire says the 18-month program was able to support 704 businesses in the cottage industry. In addition to that, 5,450 entrepreneurs have been skilled, 704 businesses are receiving support, 865 businesses have been linked to mentorship or to the market place while 832 jobs have been created under the rebound program.

The transformation ensuing from the innovative solutions so far is showing us that industrializing around technology will take us a short time to overcome problems around this pandemic and in any future crises.

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