With a population of reportedly 100 million, Egypt is making several key investments in the area of health technology to reduce costs and provide efficient care to its people. COVID-19 has further accelerated digital transformation in the country with the increased use of remote monitoring, telehealth platforms and Artificial Intelligence (AI)-enabled apps and devices.
Moreover, Egypt aims to have 7.7 per cent of its GDP derived through AI by 2030, according to a PwC report titled ‘The Potential Impact of AI in the Middle East’. The country has also developed a national AI strategy to integrate the technology in different sectors including healthcare.
The Egyptian government is driving digitisation across sectors and has been pushing for universal healthcare and cross-industry collaborations. This is evidenced in the recent partnership announced with British telecom operator Vodafone. According to reports, with the backing of the UK Department for International Trade, Vodafone won a £100m contract to help Egypt develop a new health insurance IT system on the lines of UK’s National Health Service (NHS).
The contract will introduce NHS-style universal healthcare for every citizen in Egypt. Vodafone will work with DXC Technology, a company providing IT infrastructure services across the NHS supply chain, to create a digital healthcare services platform to enable the launch of Egypt’s universal health insurance scheme. Reports said that the project will start off as a pilot in Port Said before it is introduced to four other governorates and then throughout the country.
Dr. Ahmed Nouh, Director, Digital Healthcare, Vodafone Egypt, told Omnia Health Insights: “The National Health Insurance System or the Universal Health Insurance, is a new system approved by the Egyptian Government in 2019. It makes healthcare insurance compulsory for all citizens. Vodafone’s role in this is that we will be doing the full automation and digitalisation of hospitals starting from information management systems, lab radiology systems integration, ERPs and financial management etc. These systems are still in the implementation stage and it is an on-going project, which will be realised in the next four years. Vodafone is putting a lot of effort to achieve this strategy.”
Empowering patients in Egypt
According to a report by start-up data platform Magnitt, Egypt has been ranked as one of the top countries with the most start-up investment deals closed in 2019 in the MENA. Egypt was second, after the UAE, attracting 14 per cent of the US$704m in total funding, in terms of deal values.
An app that has been making healthcare accessible for all in Egypt is Vezeeta. Its founder/CEO Amir Barsoum’s aim is to empower consumers to make more informed healthcare decisions. The app allows users to book online appointments, teleconsultations, doctors’ home visits and can also be used for online ordering and delivery of medications.
Set up in 2012, Vezeeta connects users with 21,000 locally licensed doctors across 41 medical specialities. The company serves 4 million patients across six countries: Egypt, Saudi, Kenya, Nigeria (telehealth is available in these countries), Jordan and Lebanon.
Recently, Vezeeta partnered with Saudi Arabia’s leading telecom company STC to provide its employees with free telehealth services. In a statement, the company said that the partnership will enable STC’s employees in Saudi to book free phone calls and video calls through the app. The employees will also be able to schedule home visits from doctors.
Age of acceleration
Omnia Health Insights also spoke to Omar Shaker, a healthcare futurist, who has been instrumental in creating a network of Egyptian digital health leaders run and build a digital health ecosystem in the country via the Health 2.0 Egypt chapter, which is the official affiliate of the Health 2.0 Conference and Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS).
Currently, Shaker is the Advanced Analytics Director for the California Centre for Functional Medicine, which is a Bay Area clinic that focuses on lifestyle improvements via technology and has Functional Medicine certified doctors. “I do that remotely from Cairo while pushing to grow the impact of Health 2.0 Egypt on the ground,” he said.
Health 2.0 Egypt is a network whose purpose is to connect digital health stakeholders with both the local and global innovation community. The knowledge sharing and support that has been generated from its activities have created jobs, helped start-ups find clients and investors, and provided the digital health work in Egypt global exposure.
“This allowed us to attract funding from both local and global funders and have been able to connect over 3,000 people in 5 different governorates, brought 15 global speakers in our Cairo and Alexandria events, and ran multiple innovation competitions that coached over 20 local start-ups in 2019, many of which are now established larger local players,” he said. “Our network is now expanding beyond Egypt and with the large demand for online content, we have been able to attract just over 1,000 webinar viewers from 18 different countries. We are in the process of creating the new infrastructure that would be able to support the mission of building a road of innovation to connect the Middle East and Africa to the rest of the world.”
When asked about why he refers to himself a healthcare futurist, Shaker said: “I was first exposed to the term following Singularity University, which promotes the idea of how technology accelerates at an exponential rate that can be easily missed because our brains tend to think linearly. We can imagine 100 years as a long time but that is only going back 1920s. Futurists are people who dedicate their lives to exploring that edge of technology and how it can be implemented realistically. Done right, ideas can impact billions of people and solve real-world problems.”
According to Shaker, right now healthcare is going through its biggest change ever, and the capacity to scale genomic testing and analysis, processing power for AI, ability to build robots that can perform surgeries and manufacture using 3D printing are all accelerating at a pace that is faster than we know what to do with.
“In order to be a part of this age of acceleration, I realised I needed to spend a considerable amount of effort that is fuelled by curiosity in understanding these various forces and dedicate my life into finding the best way to leverage those to improve many of my frustrations with healthcare. It is exhausting because the road is not paved and you constantly need to be in a beginner's mindset, but especially in this day and age, your efforts will be rewarded,” he concluded.