Nigeria’s digital health boom: How technology is transforming healthcare

Nigeria’s digital health boom: How technology is transforming healthcare

Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa, is witnessing a surge in digital health innovations that are reshaping its healthcare sector. From telemedicine to mobile health, from AI to wearable devices, digital health tools are providing new ways to deliver quality, accessible, and affordable healthcare services to millions of Nigerians.

Several factors are contributing to the growth of digital health in Nigeria, such as:

  • Population growth and urbanisation: Nigeria has a population of over 200 million people, which is expected to double by 2050. This creates a huge demand for healthcare services, especially in urban areas where more than half of the population lives.

  • Rising healthcare needs: Nigeria faces a high burden of communicable and non-communicable diseases, such as malaria, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, diabetes, and hypertension[3][3]. These conditions require timely diagnosis, treatment, and prevention, which can be facilitated by digital health tools.
  • Limited healthcare resources: Nigeria has a shortage of healthcare professionals, infrastructure, and equipment, which limits the availability and quality of healthcare services. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Nigeria has only 0.4 physicians and 1.1 nurses per 1,000 people, compared to the global average of 1.6 and 4.1 respectively. Digital health tools can help optimize the use of existing resources and bridge the gaps in the health system.
  • Government initiatives: The Nigerian government has recognised the potential of digital health to improve health outcomes and achieve universal health coverage. It has launched several policies and programs to support the development and adoption of digital health tools, such as the National Health ICT Strategic Framework, the National eHealth Policy, and the Nigeria Health Innovation Marketplace .
  • Innovation ecosystem: Nigeria has a vibrant and dynamic innovation ecosystem, with many start-ups, incubators, accelerators, investors, and partners working to create and scale digital health solutions. According to a report by Medic West Africa, Nigeria accounted for 85 percent of digital health start-up funding in Africa in 2021.

The impact of digital health in Nigeria

Digital health tools are having a positive impact on the Nigerian healthcare sector, by:

  • Improving access to healthcare services: Digital health tools can enable remote consultation, diagnosis, referral, and follow-up, especially for hard-to-reach populations, women, refugees, persons with disabilities, and lower-income households. For example, LifeBank, a start-up that uses drones and mobile apps to deliver blood and medical products, has saved over 10,000 lives across Nigeria.
  • Enhancing quality and efficiency of healthcare services: Digital health tools can provide accurate and timely information, guidance, and feedback to healthcare providers and patients, leading to better decision-making and outcomes. For example, Ubenwa, a start-up that uses AI to analyse infant cries, can detect birth asphyxia, a leading cause of infant mortality, with over 95 percent accuracy.
  • Strengthening health system resilience: Digital health tools can help health systems identify, respond to, and recover from health emergencies, such as pandemics, outbreaks, and disasters. For example, Wellvis, a start-up that provides online health information and triage, launched a COVID-19 self-assessment tool that reached over 500,000 users in Nigeria and other African countries.
  • Reducing healthcare costs: Digital health tools can help health systems deliver care at lower cost, by reducing travel, hospitalisation, and medication expenses, and by increasing productivity and efficiency. According to a report by McKinsey, digital health tools could capture efficiencies of up to 15 percent in total healthcare expenditures in Nigeria by 2030.

The challenges and opportunities of digital health in Nigeria

Despite the promising progress of digital health in Nigeria, there are still some challenges and barriers that need to be addressed, such as:

  • Lack of data infrastructure and interoperability: Data is the backbone of digital health, but Nigeria lacks a robust and secure data infrastructure that can store, manage, and share health data across different platforms and stakeholders. There is also a need for data standards and protocols that can ensure interoperability, privacy, and security of health data.
  • Low digital literacy and awareness: Many Nigerians, especially in rural areas, have low digital literacy and awareness, which limits their ability to use and benefit from digital health tools. There is a need for more education and sensitisation campaigns that can increase digital health literacy and adoption among the population.
  • Inadequate regulation and governance: Digital health is a fast-evolving and complex field, which requires clear and consistent regulation and governance to ensure quality, safety, and ethics. Nigeria needs to update and harmonise its legal and regulatory frameworks to address the emerging issues and challenges of digital health.

Despite these challenges, digital health in Nigeria also offers many opportunities and potentials, such as:

  • Leveraging mobile technology: Nigeria has one of the highest mobile penetration rates in Africa, with over 200 million mobile subscribers and 97 million internet users. Mobile technology can be a powerful tool to deliver and access digital health services, especially through mobile apps, SMS, and USSD.
  • Promoting public-private partnerships: Public-private partnerships can play a key role in advancing digital health in Nigeria, by bringing together the strengths and resources of different actors, such as government, private sector, civil society, academia, and development partners. Such partnerships can foster innovation, investment, capacity building, and scaling of digital health solutions.
  • Harnessing the power of AI: Artificial intelligence (AI) can offer many benefits for digital health, such as improving diagnosis, treatment, and prediction, as well as personalising and optimising care. Nigeria has a growing AI talent pool and community, which can be tapped to develop and deploy AI-based digital health solutions.

Digital health is transforming the healthcare sector in Nigeria, by providing new ways to deliver quality, accessible, and affordable healthcare services to millions of Nigerians. However, there are still some challenges and barriers that need to be overcome, as well as opportunities and potentials that need to be explored. Nigeria has the chance to become a leader and a model for digital health in Africa and beyond, by leveraging its innovation ecosystem, population growth, and government initiatives.