Rising consumer demand, rapidly growing populations and changing demographics, increasing occurrence of chronic diseases, and continued economic uncertainty are just some of the ongoing challenges facing healthcare projects in Africa today.
While there is definite scope in Africa for high-tech and high-performance hospitals that deliver state-of-the-art care, such projects cannot make sufficient impact on Africa’s immediate healthcare needs on their own. In fact, in more remote and rural areas in Africa, where even basic healthcare services are often lacking, a more decentralised approach is needed – leveraging a larger number of smaller facilities to deliver services across a wider geographic area.
To this end, one European trend that is starting to emerge is a move away from the traditional ‘mega hospitals’ (hundreds to a thousand beds) towards more day clinics that are smaller, more specialised medical centres. This approach to low-key schemes offers significant opportunities in Africa – to build more medical centres with the aim of providing highly efficient delivery of core healthcare services for people living in remote areas.
The success of this kind of approach will depend largely on prioritising spending on specialised medical centres and finding the most cost effective and efficient ways to roll out day clinics – in a networked series – across wider geographic areas. There are examples in Africa, for instance, of prefabricated solutions for day clinics . Such solutions include high performing, insulated, fire resistant, modular wall systems. These are easy to assemble and fully kitted, to ensure they meet all the necessary hygiene requirements for the health codes – and can be built with sustainability in mind by incorporating their own off-grid, hybrid approach to power supply (such solar and diesel generators, or solar and biomass-to-power). Additionally, a standardised design, as well as blueprints for any ancillary buildings, can be developed to assist in managing development costs, delivery and quality assurance on the entire series of projects.
Furthermore, adoption of disruptive and digital technologies – including, continued advancements in robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) – is driving revolutionary thinking about how healthcare services are provided.
We are already seeing widespread adoption of drones for delivery in e-Commerce environments, and this same technology can be applied to rural healthcare provision in Africa. Linking prefabricated, off-grid clinics with urban hospitals by sharing patient information, and then using drones to disperse and deliver medicine and emergency medical supplies, could ensure quicker access to care for rural communities. And any prescription, emergency or after care can, for example, be administered by qualified nurses onsite at the day clinic.
These are just a few examples of how technology can be used to expand the reach of healthcare services and increase access to primary – and possibly secondary – medical care for ever-larger portions of the population, across remote and rural Africa.
In Africa, innovation is about balance – and more often about the approach taken than the materials or technology used – to deliver the basics really well.
Future Ready Healthcare – What if we Can?
The next generation of healthcare buildings will be very different from the hospitals, clinics and GP surgeries we are familiar with today. A revolution in building design is already upon us, prompted by an acceleration of technological innovation, rapidly-ageing populations, changing expectations of how healthcare should be provided, and a growing realisation that the environment is an important part of the healing process.