Blockchain Technology in African Healthcare Industry: Use Cases, Challenges and Opportunities (1)


When most think of blockchain, they think crypto – memecoins, degen culture on twitter, bear and bullish market speculations, and so on. Other outsiders, with suspicion, call it an elaborate ruse to milk unassuming (or plain greedy) people off their hard-earned money. But crypto and blockchain, while often used interchangeably, are in fact two different things.

To read more about these differences from experts in the field, check out this article or this piece. However, since our goal here is not to make a case for their differences, but to engage in a deep dive – of an assessment of what blockchain technology is, how it works, and some of its potential applications in the healthcare industry – with a focus on emerging markets, especially Africa.

As a reader of Medical Mirror, you may have less domain expertise in this nascent technology, thus, we have opted to break this article into six sections that provide easy-to-digest information with minimal technical jargons. 


  • The state of healthcare as an industry in Africa
  • What exactly is blockchain technology?
  • Why is blockchain important to healthcare in Africa?
  • 5 African companies building healthtech infrastructure on-chain
  • Challenges to building on the blockchain
  • Prospects for the future of Africa

The State of Healthcare Industry in Africa

The global health sector is valued at $11.9 trillion, with Africa accounting for less than 3% of the pie according to data from Businesswire. However, The Brookings Institution projected this value to increase to $259 by 2030 due to the fast-pace of gains being recorded on the continent.  These figures are indicative of a broader sentiment, one which adjudged the healthcare industry in Africa to be promising, yet, failing; mired with varied challenges.

At its core lies the issue of accessibility; vast swathes of the continent’s population still lack adequate access to essential healthcare services. This accessibility gap is exacerbated by factors such as geographic remoteness, underdeveloped infrastructure, and limited financial resources. What this means is that preventable diseases continue to claim countless lives, placing a heavy burden on already fragile healthcare systems across the continent.

It is, therefore, unsurprising that health professionals are unmotivated. The World Health Organisation (WHO) African Region Report shows that shortages of skilled health professionals, particularly doctors and nurses are increasing across all African countries where they are mostly needed.

Factors like brain drain (where trained professionals leave for better opportunities abroad) and low pay for talent fuel this issue. To make matters worse, government policies aimed at talent retention only seem to increase the level of discontent medical professionals have for their country.

Speaking on the current state of the healthcare system in Africa, Nigerian health tech investor, entrepreneur and medical doctor, Ola Brown said in a TEDx Talk at Yaba, Lagos:

“I realized on moving to Nigeria that healthcare was a much bigger problem than I had originally anticipated… that even when you compare us to some of the dangerous and conflicted areas in the world such as Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, you can see that in terms of the number of children that die, Nigeria has a seriously problematic healthcare system”

Gloomy sentiments and facts like these are some of the reasons the Nigerian healthcare system was ranked 187th out of 190 by the WHO. A list which included half a dozen of war-torn countries such as Syria, Sudan, Afghanistan, and Ukraine.

However, optimists believe that there are glimmers of hope. They argue that African nations are increasingly prioritizing healthcare as a fundamental aspect of their development agendas. Governments are implementing various initiatives aimed at expanding healthcare infrastructure, increasing the availability of medical professionals, and enhancing the affordability of healthcare services.

Also, advancements in technology are playing a crucial role in bridging the healthcare gap. Mobile health solutions, telemedicine platforms, and digital health records are revolutionizing the delivery of healthcare, particularly in remote areas where traditional healthcare infrastructure is lacking. More recently, blockchain is being deployed to facilitate better healthcare realities for over a billion people on the continent.

Researchers from The Nelson Mandela African Institution of Science and Technology, Cleverance Kombe, Anael Sam and Mussa Ally echoes this sentiment when talking about opportunities that technology like the blockchain would provide for the healthcare system in various African countries:

“The existing issues facing electronic healthcare systems can be tackled through blockchain based solutions like self-sovereign identity and sharing and storing patients’ medical data securely in blockchain ledgers and interplanetary file systems.”

But such optimism needs to be tethered to realistic demands. Government agencies, legal frameworks, policies, and health tech entrepreneurs are more less careful in asserting level of backwardness 

What exactly is blockchain technology?

A blockchain is a distributed ledger shared among a computer network’s nodes.  Think of it as a spreadsheet opened on different computers. Now, imagine each cell of this spreadsheet contains a record of a transaction, and this spreadsheet is duplicated and synchronized across all the computers in the network. This duplication and synchronization ensure that every participant in the network has an identical copy of the ledger, eliminating the need for a central authority to verify and maintain the integrity of the data.

At its core, blockchain technology consists of blocks of data that are cryptographically linked together in a chronological chain. Each block contains a batch of transactions, along with a unique cryptographic hash of the previous block, creating a secure and immutable record of all transactions. This cryptographic linking ensures that any attempt to alter a single block would require altering all subsequent blocks, making the blockchain resistant to tampering and fraud.

One of the key features of blockchain technology is decentralization. Unlike traditional centralized systems where a single entity controls the data and transactions, blockchain operates on a decentralized network of computers (nodes), with no single point of failure. This decentralized architecture enhances security, transparency, and resilience, as the network can continue to operate even if some nodes fail or are compromised.

Another important aspect of blockchain technology is transparency. Since every transaction is recorded on the blockchain and visible to all participants, there is a high degree of transparency and traceability in the system. This transparency helps to build trust among participants and reduces the risk of fraud and corruption.

Blockchain technology also enables programmable transactions through smart contracts. Smart contracts are self-executing contracts with the terms of the agreement directly written into code. These contracts automatically execute and enforce the terms of the agreement when predefined conditions are met, without the need for intermediaries.

To be continued here

About Author:
Isaac Melchizedek is as a content and marketing lead at ParagraphFive, a digital agency.

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