How can technology complement health measures during and after the COVID-19 pandemic, and how will this impact the longer-term development of certain technologies?
OWUSU-ANSAH: A wider segment of the population can benefit from a variety of health services because of the potential of innovative health technology. For instance, through telemedicine a doctor can consult with
a patient remotely, request laboratory tests, prescribe medications, and enable a pharmacy to deliver medicine to the patient – all without the patient stepping out of the house. This can greatly reduce the pressure on healthcare infrastructure by reducing the number of people that would otherwise be lining up in waiting rooms and pharmacies.
DANIEL MARFO: Innovative technologies such as drones have the potential to play an important role in how we observe social distancing and implement the various preventive measures that have been effective in reducing the spread of the pandemic. Because of this, it is expected that there will be a push to fully commercialise drones in many parts of the world, and many Western countries will speed up the approval process for commercial drone licences. Other technologies that allow people to keep in touch and work remotely, including teleconferencing platforms and telemedicine, will also be popular.
What opportunities do you expect the crisis will create for health tech in Ghana even after the immediate threat is over?
OWUSU-ANSAH: COVID-19 highlighted the inefficiencies in health care that have long made the sector unattractive to the tech world. Hopefully, the scale of the pandemic, and its direct and indirect effects on the global economy and everyday life, will encourage more investors and firms to venture into health technology. Ghanaians and Africans may realize that we do not need to commute as much, and instead start to rely on offerings such as telemedicine, e-commerce and e-services. This will drive growth in these segments, improving service delivery. E-services have the potential to drastically reduce costs and can provide the opportunity to do more meaningful things – such as spending time with the family – that can lead to overall better quality of life.
MARFO: COVID-19 exposed many of the challenges and shortcomings of health systems across the world. I expect that many of the health tech initiatives deployed during the crisis will remain after the crisis. As such, we could see the increased use of drone technology in health-related logistics, a boom in telemedicine and online pharmacies, and remote disease tracking and patient monitoring.
In what ways do you anticipate the crisis will impact the economy?
MARFO: The short- and medium-term economic effects of the virus will be drastic. It will take a long time for the world to recover, especially in terms of employment and consumption. It is important to note that many people in Africa live hand to mouth, and measures such as social distancing and lockdowns will cause them to lose their livelihoods. I expect the tourism industry to be the hardest hit, with the sector not fully recovering until 18 to 24months after the crisis. Public budgets will also be strained, as many people and businesses will require bailouts and other forms of support.
OWUSU-ANSAH: Ghana is already looking to the new budget to be introduced by July 2020 to help reposition the economy after COVID-19, with a lot of revenue targets likely to be missed due to the effects of the global pandemic. Crude prices are at an all-time low, most manufacturers and other members of the private sector have had to pause operations due to partial lockdowns in major economic centres around the country, and the government has less revenue coming in. On a brighter note, local manufacturers are producing more essential goods in response to the disruption in global supply chains. If this trend is sustained, we can empower our local industries in a way that is positive for the economy in the long run and mitigate some of the effects of the crisis, such as job losses.