Opinion Piece: Broadband can play a critical role to make healthcare affordable

By Andrew Matseke, CEO of Broadband Infraco

23 March 2020

Following his participation at the inaugural E-Health round table discussion that recently took place in Durban, Andrew Matseke, CEO of Broadband Infraco writes that technology will play a pivotal role in delivering access to quality, affordable personal healthcare services for all South Africans.

The envisioned equitable healthcare service will be based on their health needs, irrespective of their socioeconomic status. 

Internet connectivity, especially access to broadband, is a super-determinant of health that plays an important role in healthcare and public health outcomes. 

Broadband access is a prerequisite for a range of technologies that can provide more cost-effective and higher-quality care, such as video consultation, remote patient monitoring, and electronic health record operability.

However, in many places, particularly rural areas that have the most to gain from telemedicine and connectivity, broadband remains too expensive, unreliable, or simply not available at the speeds required to enable innovations in care.

People living in regional, rural and remote areas in South Africa often struggle to access health services that urban South Africans see as a basic right. 

These inequalities mean that they have a lower life expectancy and worse outcomes on leading indicators of health.

Rural dwellers have poorer access to healthcare, and access to care compared to people in major cities such as Cape Town, Durban, and Johannesburg.

In rural South Africa, accessing affordable, good quality and comprehensive healthcare remains a real challenge for many. 

Notwithstanding these challenges, there have been significant improvements in the healthcare system since 1994.

These improvements include the introduction of free primary healthcare (PHC) for all, the establishment of a district-based health system, introduction of the essential drugs programme and the hospital revitalisation programme.

But to completely rectify the inequalities of the past, especially the healthcare digital divide, the right mechanisms need to be put in place.

At Broadband Infraco, we believe that technology will play a pivotal role in delivering access to quality, affordable personal healthcare services for all South Africans irrespective of their socioeconomic status. 

Broadband Infraco is a state-owned wholesale provider of choice for backhaul connectivity.

Through our SA Connect initiative, we will ensure that rural coverage reaches all health facilities.

Our connected health facilities deployed countrywide have taught us valuable lessons regarding the provision of reliable services.

As part of the SA Connect project, we are proud to have connected health facilities in uMgungundlovu and uMzinyathi district municipalities in KwaZulu-Natal.

This experience places us at the forefront of connectivity in the sector.

No doubt, the connectivity of these sites improves the quality, efficiency, and patient centricity.

Introducing the use of technology for healthcare bridges the digital divide between rural and urban areas. 

This development could positively contribute to the resolution of shortcomings in the rural health sector.

Vast connectivity roll-out initiatives like SA Connect have also shown clear downstream benefits such as job creation and youth development.

These benefits are enjoyed by communities in which Broadband Infraco operates. 

The upliftment of communities, therefore, is an integral part of our business.

We, as a company, have rolled out SA Connect to eight districts in the far-flung rural areas. 

From schools to health facilities we have provided access to the unconnected. To date, we have deployed 677 sites and in a process of completing 700 sites.

At Broadband Infraco, we believe that roll-out will have a massive impact on stimulating the rural economy as well as making telecoms services cheaper. 

As a company, we are also likely to play a bigger role in the country’s National Health Insurance (NHI).

This healthcare financing system is designed to pool funds to actively purchase and provide access to quality, affordable personal healthcare services for all South Africans. 

The NHI initiative will go a long way to significantly improve healthcare access and affordability in the country. To realise the right to health for all, we as a company are ready to play a vital role.

A week into the declaration of a national state of disaster, President Cyril Ramaphosa said South Africa’s very existence as a nation is being put to the test.

Covid-19, which has been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation (WHO), has as of 22 March 2020, South Africa has recorded 274 cases, meaning there has been an increase of 34 cases from Saturday’s reported number of 240 cases.

We believe our network will be at the centre of ensuring internet connectivity resulting in the development of creative healthcare solutions.

Furthermore, an equitable healthcare service will be able to deal with global crisis like the coronavirus outbreak.

Broadband Infraco is ready to assist the South African Government by ensuring the state is incapacitated with relevant technology to respond to the coronavirus outbreak.

As a company, we could play a leading role in facilitating the flow of crucial information about Covid-19 to health facilities.

Together we can improve the lives of others.

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