This week Rwanda became the first African country to impose a full lockdown against Covid-19, leading the continent before Kenya and DRC followed suit.
Its early response was based on its effective Ebola strategy, and it has been an innovator in healthcare generally thanks to its push for universal coverage and innovation-friendly regulations.
Zipline, a drone supply chain, and Babylon, a telemedicine app, are two rapidly expanding heathcare start-ups for which Rwanda has been an incubator.
These start-ups are future leaders of Africa’s healthcare solutions. They are also drivers of reverse innovation, scaling up in agile developing markets before trying solutions in more established healthcare systems.
Zipline began in Rwanda before expanding to Ghana and the United States. Babylon also thrived in Rwanda following a relatively small launch in London, and is now expanding in Canada.
Similar businesses with solutions tailored to the current pandemic will be eyeing up Rwanda and other developing healthcare markets as Africa’s confirmed cases increase.
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Demand for healthcare solutions globally is already driving start-up investment in Rwanda
Investment is already pouring into solutions from developed economies, whose interest in digital-led healthcare improvements in Africa will be piqued during the shared crisis.
Last week was the deadline for the European Commission’s funding round for pandemic-focused start-ups, with €164m in the pot.
Meanwhile, private investment has already elevated a Covid-19 solution from Estonia. Viveo Health’s videolink service for GP consultations received €2m of funding earlier this month.
As Africa sees its outbreak catching up with that in Europe, Asia and the US, the agility of its emerging healthcare systems will be vital in finding ground-up digital solutions.
Demand for telemedicine particularly plays to African innovation strengths
The nature of the crisis at hand means that telemedicine, which is already an investment priority in Africa, will accelerate with incentives from global Covid-19 hotspots.
An example of African telemedicine innovation from beyond Rwanda is DHIS2, the world’s largest healthcare management information platform. Applications of the platform in Burkina Faso have been particularly lauded.
Telemedicine is widely seen as the future of healthcare in more developed economies with aging populations, but cumbersome infrastructure is an obstacle to the rapid trial-and-error innovation possible elsewhere.
Covid-19 could be the catalyst for more drastic action towards telemedicine, making the examples of places like Rwanda and Burkina Faso more important than ever.
Promoting these examples will combat the crisis of confidence threatening venture capital firms spooked by economic uncertainty.