A revolution is going on in Africa right now, led by a young, dynamic population pushing the boundaries of digital innovation to fundamentally transform healthcare for all its citizens.

A diverse and rapidly evolving continent, Africa’s social and demographic trends are triggering new challenges and a subsequent need for new approaches; the catalyst for innovation at a remarkable level.

Sanofi has worked with communities right across Africa for more than 60 years, putting innovation at the cornerstone of its strategy, including improvements in telecommunications to help African countries face evolving challenges. Its latest initiative to promote greater access to healthcare in Africa involves challenging and awarding African startups in health during the 2018 VivaTech, a tech-fair in Paris on May 24-26 that will gather together the world’s most promising innovators.

Sanofi’s goal is to combine Africa’s dynamism, creativity and energy to provide new solutions to improve health systems and to ensure equal access to healthcare with its ability to accompany, develop and showcase local talent.

Almost 189 startups submitted an application to Sanofi, demonstrating the exceptional dynamism of African entrepreneurs.

However, the continent is vast and still faces a digital divide: in Africa the number of mobile subscription represents 81% while the internet penetration is only 29%1. The African continent craves innovative technologies that can adapt and develop to meet the continent’s healthcare problems head on.

This includes improved training for healthcare professionals to enable them to use the latest technologies and the newest treatments on a population that continues to increase at a rapid pace. It is set to more than double by 20502 and is expected to represent a fourth of the world’s population by 21002. As a result, the global African population is among the youngest in the world, with more than half of them aged under 25.

This ever-growing population, combined with the emergence of an expanding middle-class, has triggered a rapid and sometimes uncontrolled urbanization, where cities can become hubs for the spread of infectious diseases. Improving the fight against infectious diseases remains a priority, since they still represent a major cause of death in Africa; one child dies of malaria every two minutes in Africa.

Meanwhile, non-communicable diseases are rapidly gaining in prominence. In particular, without any concerted action, the number of people with diabetes will increase by 162% by 20453; as it is, two thirds of Africans suffering from diabetes remain undiagnosed. This lack of diagnosis can partly be explained by intense urbanization, which results in a gap in the provision of and access to healthcare between those living in towns and those in remote areas.

Sanofi has already implemented programs in Algeria to address unequal access to health infrastructures between cities and remote areas. “We have been using digital internet technology to reach remote patients and remote healthcare professionals,” said John Fairest, Sanofi’s Head of Africa. “This way innovation and digital technology is helping improve early disease recognition, disease management program, and empowering patients to look after themselves better.”

In Algeria, we have also equipped mobile clinics with the latest healthcare technologies to address the geographical constraints of access to screening and treatment, while in Nigeria we tackled the dangerous issue of counterfeit medicines. To do this we implemented a special coding on our packaging to allow patients to check whether the drug is genuine.

Sanofi Promotes Local Innovations in Africa

We want to continue using our expertise, knowledge and experience to work alongside African start-ups to develop the most creative and imaginative ways to improve access to healthcare for the people of Africa. Out of all the entrants we received, we have selected ten African innovators to present their solutions, addressing three absolutely crucial problems for the continent:

How to diagnose earlier non-communicable diseases?

  • The African continent is now experiencing an epidemiological transition, characterized by an increase in non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, cholesterol, hypertension or cancer, which will be as prevalent as communicable diseases by 2020. This transition, linked to a shift in lifestyle, is challenging Africa as the cost of these long-term diseases is very high, requiring hospitalization and demanding expensive treatments. Indeed, in Africa non-communicable diseases are one of the main growing health concerns. Using new technologies to diagnose and treat people at an early stage via new technologies can improve quality of life and even save lives.

How Telemedicine can improve healthcare access in Africa?

  • Africa has witnessed significant evolutions in telecommunication. Development of telemedicine integrated mobile payment solutions can provide better health support for people who need it by overcoming challenges of distance, time and lack of resources.
  • In Africa, nearly 60% of the population live in isolated, rural areas - most of them below the poverty line - and 83% of them are excluded from healthcare services through isolation, poverty, expensive public transport, lack of doctors and nurses, infrastructure and material.
  • Local villagers first rely on traditional medicine (healers, shaman), and only turn to pharmacies as a last resort, but they generally lack medication and resources.

How to improve education of healthcare professionals in chronic disease management in Africa?

  • Improving healthcare professionals’ understanding of the latest medical and clinical information (as well as advanced therapies) around chronic diseases is pivotal for them to better support the population along their health journey. Indeed, the lack of healthcare professionals and the lack of resources to train them constitute one of the leading causes of the deficiencies in the health system in Africa.

The ten most promising startups will join Sanofi at the Africa Lab at VivaTech’s Afric@Tech, where they will be able to showcase their solutions to the most prominent stakeholders in the digital sector. The most mature projects that display a concrete ability to answer the healthcare needs of African communities will be offered support from Sanofi teams, from coaching and mentoring, which could potentially lead to a collaboration with us in Africa.

The African continent is vast, its healthcare problems are deep but the possibilities springing from its young digital minds are endless, and we are delighted to work with them and discover healthcare solutions for the future together.