Global healthtech sector has boomed in the last decade, especially in markets such as the US, the Middle East and Southeast Asia. Now an interesting observation is that Egypt is following suit amid the protracted pandemic and its evolving healthcare system.
According to Deloitte, rapid increase in healthtech investments and innovators leveraging artificial intelligence, machine learning and the Internet of Things to enable products and solutions was evident in the last two years. While the country has been embracing digital change in healthcare, the Covid-19 pandemic is expected to give the industry a timely boost.
The pandemic has accelerated digital transformation as startups offering remote monitoring and telehealth platforms are seeing substantial increase in businesses. Also, a notable trend is observed in the use of AI-enabled assessment apps and devices.
Egypt-based startups Chefaa, Vezeeta and D-Kimia are among the leading healthtech startups revolutionising the industry on various levels. It is clear that rapid advancements in digitisation are changing every aspect of our lives, with technology innovations such as blockchain, Internet of things and artificial intelligence being applied in almost all sectors to improve efficiency—and healthcare is no exception.
The global digital healthcare market was valued at around $147 billion in 2019. A Global Digital Health Outlook 2020 report published by Frost & Sullivan noted that the sector will be valued at around $234.5 billion in 2023.
Healthtech startups wrestle Covid-19 spread
The healthcare sector started leveraging digitisation at the beginning of the decade. After a number of US-based startups raised funding, the trend was soon followed by other emerging markets across the globe. The fact that digital disruption was first seen in other sectors such as finance, logistics and education has helped the industry to leverage technology easily. Over the years, we have also seen numerous digital innovations which have helped save lives or make life easier for millions affected by at least one medical condition globally.
Healthtech is playing a prominent role in fighting against the disease and curbing its spread globally. It is reported that the pandemic has posed to become one of the greatest healthcare challenges in the world.
Established in 2017, Chefaa, an Egypt-based healthtech startup manages chronic patient’s monthly prescriptions and all pharmacy needs with the use of AI and GPS technology. Its cutting-edge technologies are managed by a domain expert team.
“We have witnessed an increase by 300 percent, driven by chronic patients needing to secure their monthly prescriptions amid the lockdown especially that chronic patients are among the risk groups for Covid-19. Since chronic patients are among the risk groups, it was very important to help them secure their prescriptions regularly and sustainably and avoid unnecessary exposure; pharmacies are excluded from lockdown,” Dr. Rasha Rady, co-founder and chief operating officer at Chefaa, told International Finance. “Our 24/7 chat support is managed by licensed pharmacists who help assure and serve patients, answering their questions in light of the published instructions by the Egyptian Ministry of Health (MOH). Also, they would answer patients’ questions and give relevant pharmaceutical consultations. Our Arabic speaking pharmaceutical blog educates the public about sound protective measures as well as sound use of medicine.”
Vezeeta, another leading healthtech company operating in Egypt as well as the Middle East has launched a free medical consultation service for anyone experiencing flu-like symptoms. Such services are being offered by the startup without any charges.
Driving force behind Egypt’s healthcare digitisation
The Egyptian government is pushing for universal healthcare and cross-industry partnerships. With that, digitised hospitals are emphasising on connectivity and hardware and software developments related to big data, machine learning, artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things—a pathway for innovators in healthcare worldwide.
In comparison, Egypt’s approach to healthcare is quite similar to other African countries. For example, in Africa, different startups are using artificial intelligence to diagnose diseases, provide treatment recommendations and data management solutions to its users.
Likewise, advancements in heathtech in Egypt are driven by artificial intelligence. An article published in the MIT Technology Review pointed out that artificial intelligence has the potential to save cost by taking over diagnostics procedures previously carried out by health workers. However, with the integration of artificial intelligence hospitals will be able to better utilise the resources.
According to a PwC report titled The Potential Impact of AI in the Middle East, Egypt is aiming to have 7.7 percent of its GDP derived through artificial intelligence by 2030. The Egyptian government is driving digitisation in the country across sectors.
More recently, it developed a national AI strategy to integrate artificial intelligence in different sectors such as healthcare, education, smart cities, infrastructure and transport among others.
Telehealth is fostering healthcare in rural Egypt
Especially during uncertain times like now social distancing has become pivotal in the fight against Covid-19. Against this background, telehealth is proving to be a useful tool to ensure healthcare is provided to all Egyptians. It has the potential to reach those who are deprived from proper healthcare in rural Egypt—meaning that it can establish convenience and allow healthcare workers to have a wider reach to a greater population compared to conventional methods. In short, telehealth and telemedicine have seen a substantial rise in Egypt since the country entered into a state of lockdown to curb the spread of the disease.
In a country as vast as Egypt, huge amounts of medical data are being generated every day in hospitals, healthcare units, pharmacies and labs, in addition to some data generated by healthcare consumers. But the common problem lies in making sufficient use of the data available.
Every time a patient seeks services from a healthcare worker, new data is created. For that reason, integrating cloud-based data systems, data such as medical history, diagnoses, treatments and past appointments could be stored digitally and made available when patients or doctors require it in real-time. The main purpose of these innovators are to lower costs and improve access to healthcare.
Egypt records a population of nearly 98 million people. Investments are being made in healthtech over the years to reduce the cost curve and bring the Egyptian population under the healthcare umbrella.
Outlook for Egyptian healthcare system
The outlook for the Egyptian healthcare and healthtech sector is quite positive. The pandemic is only expected to increase investments into the sector. While most of the funding is seen from foreign investors, the pandemic is expected to catch the attention of local investors.
Experts believe that the healthcare sector will go through a major disruption in the next two decades. Dr. Rady explained that “The healthtech sector in Egypt is expected to grow significantly. Covid-19 crisis may have driven the change toward a new normal, but all healthcare stakeholders will seek more online presence like reaching out to patients through technology, while patients on the other hand are learning to deal with the ‘new normal’ by trying out different services which makes healthcare quality management, patient safety and cost-effectiveness the key differentiating criterion.”
In her view, “Moving toward the digital transformation era of healthcare in Egypt is inevitable as Covid-19 has made it quite clear. The pandemic has driven people who previously never thought of online being safe or even a reliable tool to offer services in the healthcare sector, to start exploring it, discussing the pros and cons and perhaps even trying it. I expect significant growth in the sector with the key differentiating criterion.”