Health tech innovations changing South Africa

Doctor

In the last few years tech companies have jumped on the wearable tech bandwagon with popular gadgets like the Fitbit or Samsung’s Gear Fit. There are also hundreds of fitness apps taking the smartphone world by storm. The importance of health technologies is becoming more prevalent as everyone, from athletes to housewives, have realised the need to track calories and steps using an app or a wristband.

Having said that, the technology is still very expensive and has limited access. Nowhere is the need for more efficient, more accessible and generally more powerful tools as great as it is in Africa. In South Africa, for instance, HIV/AIDS prevalence for adults is 17% according to UNICEF. Access to treatment and, possibly more importantly, access to information about these diseases and how to prevent them is incredibly important.

One initiative using the power of the mobile phone to help people access crucial information is Praekelt Foundation. The tech incubator builds mobile technologies that improve the health and well-being of people living in rural areas.

Praekelt Foundation has been involved in developing tools like Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action(MAMA), which helps to deliver mothers in rural areas nutritional and treatment information. It’s also responsible for TxtAlert, a service that sends automated, personalised messages and reminders to patients living on chronic medication.

Headed by entrepreneur Ashley Uys, OculusID is responsible for developing biometric solutions with impairment detection through the application of non-invasive, hygienic and cost-effective innovations.

The company was founded in 2013 and was recently nominated for the prestigious Innovation Prize for Africa 2014. It’s been nominated for the OculusID Impairment Screening device, which can help measure substance abuse, physiological defects and even fatigue.

Founded in 2013, RecoMed launched its service that allows patients to find nearby doctors, dentists and other health professionals. It’s like FourSquare for patients. People can rate and recommend doctors they visit in order to promote the cream of the crop.

FolUp is a communication platform that helps connect patients and doctors. Doctors will be able to access information, insights and trends collated from unstructured medical, social and quality of life data collected through patient entries, diaries, games and blogs. Hailing from New York, the startup launchedin South Africa last year.

Hello Doctor is an app service that lets you access health information checked by professionals via your mobile phone. People have access to text and telephonic services for medical advice and guidance by registered practitioners. You can, for instance, ask questions about your symptoms via chat or participate in group discussions for guided advice. The startup aims to provide the “doctor in your pocket” and also hosts the Hello Doctor television show every Sunday.

CapeRay pitched its high-tech medical device at this year’s U-Start event in Cape Town. By combining X-ray and ultrasound breast screening equipment, the company has developed an innovative way for doctors to diagnose breast cancer. This technology is said to co-register the images which improves the diagnostic accuracy.

The world’s first metabolic chamber captured the imagination of tech and medical enthusiasts alike in 2012. Based in Stellenbosch, South Africa HealthQ has developed a low-cost device that can accurately track human metabolism. The startup is also working on LifeQ – a project that aims to create “beautifully designed, intelligent technology that enables you to understand your body — every second of the day.”

Often health, agriculture and education-related tech startups tend to evade the mass media — mostly because they fall back on ideas cooked up in university labs and remote farms instead of coffee shops and hip innovation hubs that personify the web 2.0 movement. Nonetheless, while these innovations might be brewing behind the scenes, they’re still the backbone of their respective industries.

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