GITEX AFRICA, Moroccan renaissance and the search for digital health solutions in Nigeria

GITEX AFRICA, Moroccan renaissance and the search for digital health solutions in Nigeria

I was excited when I discovered that the GITEX AFRICA 2024 and the World Future Health Africa (WFHA) session will hold in Marrakech, Morocco from 29th-31st May 2024. I booked my hotel (Hotel Chems) very close to the famous Koutoubia. The Africa Centre of Excellence for Population Health and Policy (ACEPHAP), Bayero University Kano supported my travel to source for networks and partnerships for the center’s Healthcare entrepreneurship and innovation programme. 

Claus Schwab, the Executive chairman and founder of the World economic forum described the fourth industrial revolution as a digital revolution characterized by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres. 

The GITEX brand (Global Information Technology Exhibition) is an annual computer technology exhibition that was started in 1981 in Dubai, United Arab Emirate and has now expanded to GITEX Europe (Berlin Germany), GITEX Asia (Singapore) and GITEX Africa (Marrakech, Morocco). 

The purpose of the second GITEX Africa edition was to address the unique opportunities and challenges that face Africa in a variety of fields, including healthcare. These challenges include the continent’s 1.4 billion people, the rising global disease burden, the lack of access to only 3% of the global health workforce, the inability to produce pharmaceuticals and vaccines, and the continent’s rapidly growing youth as well as technological user base. 

The largest technology and startup expo in Africa, GITEX Africa features leading companies and trends in industries including banking, healthcare, telecoms, mobility, smart cities, and cybersecurity. Between 30,000 and 50,000 significant regional and international technological actors, delegates, and attendees attended this conference in 2024. In order to lead Africa’s transition into the Digital Health Economy through ground-breaking partnerships and technologies, the World Future Health Africa initiative was launched for the healthcare sector.

Marrakech is a resilient city because, in the wake of the September 2023 6.9 magnitude earthquake, it recovered showing little or no signs of devastation or destruction. The fourth-biggest city in Morocco, founded in 1070, it is distinguished by the Koutoubia Mosque, built in the 12th century, the red paint that covers its buildings, mosques, palaces, markets (souks), gardens, and the Atlas Mountains’ eastern foothills. 

Through the Moroccan Renaissance, the nation is attempting to establish itself as a geographical and cultural hub connecting Africa, Europe, and the Middle East, bridging continents, civilizations, and futures in the process. Morocco’s heavy investment in education, technological advancement, innovations, entrepreneurship, infrastructure and economic diversification attracts foreign investments as showcased by the Universitaire Mohammed VI Polytechnic (UM6P) Pavilion at the GITEX AFRICA.

Morocco developed its tourism industry through preservation of its ancient cities, palaces, gardens, busy marketplaces (Souk), the sand dunes at the deserts, the waterfalls and the minarets to attract tourists who want to feel a blend of cultural heritage and modernity in places like Marrakech, Feiz etc.

I used the opportunity to visit Professor Drissi Boumzebra, the head of Cardiac surgery at  Marrakech’s Mohammed VI University Teaching Hospital and participated in his French-conducted ward rounds which was summarized for me in English. When I visited Marrakech in 2019 and 2022, he helped organise the World Society for Paediatric and Congenital Heart Surgery (WSPCHS) congress and the Pan African Cardiovascular Surgeons (PACVAS) meeting. He has participated in numerous open heart surgery missions in Nigeria and taught young Nigerians the skill of heart surgery. He informed me about a new development in their health insurance that requires both public and private institutions to provide open-heart surgery and other advanced medical services. 

When Muhammad Umar and I (both from eHealth Africa) excused Dr. Maryam to pray the Jumuah prayer at the Koutoubia Mosque Minaret, I witnessed health promotion in the mosque. Every year on May 31st, Imam Habib gives a sermon that is focused on the WHO’s annual #Worldnottobaccoday campaign. He counselled smokers to give up in order to lessen the health hazards to themselves, their friends and family who do not smoke, and to prevent their kids from following in their footsteps.

As a multilingual country where Arabic, French, indigenous Amazigh and English are spoken, Morocco is pursuing a language transformation by expanding English teaching to reach 50% in grade 7 and 100% in grade 8 this year and across all the secondary schools next year after recognizing it to be the language for global Science, Technology, Innovation and business communication. 

The Moroccan Renaissance is positioning it to be a strategic player in Africa. Nigeria needs to borrow a leaf in these approaches as the most populous country in Africa with huge opportunities by identifying and developing our competitive advantages strategically, sincerely and genuinely. 

Back at the GITEX AFRICA, the World Future Health Africa (WFHA) featured events such as the healthcare investment summit and WFHA congress, where several panel discussions were thrashed about the roles of digital health in primary healthcare, healthcare financing, telemedicine, public-private partnership, supply chain logistics, global health equity, data driven healthcare, regenerative AI and the future of health workers in Africa. 

Ministers and heads of digital health institutions from many African countries, as well as giant sponsors such as Mediot, Abbott, IQVIA, UINCEF, Mohammed VI Foundation for Sciences and Health, Mastercard Foundation, Sterling Bank, Africa CDC and Smart Africa participated actively. Nigeria received several recognition and accolades for its vast capital and potential opportunities. 

In a historical move, the Director General of National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) Kashif Inuwa Abdullahi signed an MoU with Trixie LohMirmand, the CEO of Kaoun International, organizers of the GITEX to bring the GITEX brand to Nigeria and start the GITEX Nigeria exhibition in 2025 to Abuja and Lagos. It is envisaged to mix innovations, resilience and local context especially in areas of AI, Future finance, Digital Health and startup. 

Nigeria can leverage on GITEX Nigeria to address its health challenges through the application of digital technology from digitization of the healthcare data, digitalization and digital disruptions. With one of the worst ratios of health workers to people, the country can leverage on technology such as telemedicine, remote clinical decision support, virtual training and education of its health workforce and disruptive technologies as displayed by some of the Nigerian startups such as SPECXS Care by Isah Dahiru, Healthport by Aishat Adeniji, and FundusAI by A. Adeyemo, Seplat Energy etc at the GITEX AFRICA.

Achieving digital solutions to our health problems requires multi sectoral collaboration between Ministry of Health, NITDA (and its parent Ministry of digital Economy), Ministry of Education (together with Nigerian Universities Commission) and the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria (MDCN) that regulate medical and dental practice in Nigeria as well as the other key industry players. It is necessary to make investments in the development of human resources for digital health by upgrading IT infrastructure, implementing simulation training units, and reviewing health curricula.

Healthcare innovation and entrepreneurship hubs are invaluable to encourage startups to grow and a quadruple collaboration between government, universities, industry players and communities is a critical building block. The environment needs to be made attractive and conducive for startups and investors, partners, and collaborators to build a strong digital health ecosystem.  Regulations to guide the practice, ensure interoperability, protects data misuse and ensure confidentiality and information security are essential components.

After visiting a few tourist attractions and engaging in thrilling activities like thrilling quad biking in the Agafay desert and thrilling Palmeraie camel riding, I left GITEX Africa and Marrakech and headed to Nigeria, carrying with me the inspiring words of Trixie LohMirmand, CEO of Kaoun International, the organisation that organises GITEX AFRICA: “If there is any sector that can leapfrog in Africa, its digital health. This is because health is not a vanity, it is not a desire. It is a necessity.”

 

Dr Fatima Damagum’s column will be back next week