How Covid could prompt further innovation in SA’s healthcare systems

How Covid could prompt further innovation in SA’s healthcare systems
How Covid could prompt further innovation in SA’s healthcare systems. Image source: Pixabay

While Covid has brought with it a myriad of challenges; there has been a more fortunate side effect: it has revealed our ability to do things differently, especially if we operate collaboratively. This insight is not exclusive to healthcare. It just happens to be particularly pertinent considering the pandemic’s significant impact on this sector, and because personal health and healthcare delivery have occupied a near unprecedented level of scrutiny.

There are many lessons for South Africa to learn from the last two years. Lessons that can be used to improve the local healthcare system – these were brought to the forefront at the recent #cocreateDESIGN FESTIVAL 2021, hosted by the Craft and Design Institute in partnership with the Mission Network of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in SA. Many of these learnings were surfaced thanks to the uncharted territory that responses to the pandemic needed to navigate.

For example, technology was leveraged appropriately to put people and patients at the centre of the solution. We also saw how care was taken closer to patients through multiple models of telehealth which enabled both patients and practitioners to be protected, and connected the need with demand. Mobile phones were used extensively for sharing information and screenings. There was a high level of dialogue from the public, using digital means and social media, and this response was not about what government did or leaders did, this response was about how individuals and communities took agency.

And, outside of healthcare per se, approximately 10 million South Africans were screened for their eligibility for a social grant using technology – that’s a game-changing story not just for South Africa but for the continent.

“At the systems level, some of the innovation was really exciting and encouraging to see, because it shifted our model of healthcare delivery quite substantially,” said process analyst and consultant Dr Zameer Bray, who spoke at the #cocreateDESIGN FESTIVAL 2021. Bray is the TB Programme Lead South Africa at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

“Traditionally, we deliver healthcare in hospitals and clinics but during the pandemic we had to push beyond those imaginary boundaries and say to ourselves: ‘Where do people actually meet? Where is convenient for them?’ So whether that’s in malls or shops, community halls, playgrounds, places of worship, or even grant queues, rather than expecting people to come to you, go to where they are!” Bray continues.

What was also powerful, was how mass behaviour shifts played a role in limiting the spread of infection. Whether it was politicians affecting regulations, religious leaders guiding their congregations, businesses playing their part, or individuals empowering themselves, the whole of society came together like never before to take on a healthcare crisis.

As a result of this collective response, “public and private sector started to pool data and that was super critical in the time of a pandemic that spread so fast because it allowed us to see trends and hotspots in a way that we have not seen before,” Bray explains. This initial sharing of data, at a national and global level, led to the sharing of testing platforms and repurposing of existing infrastructure to aid the response.

Now that these have proved effective, the new hope is that some of these technologies and responses will see themselves translated into routine service delivery for other diseases. It’s also to be hoped that the health service design of the future can equally embrace “the whole of society approach” that was evident in the Covid response.

If we could do it for Covid, then surely, we can do it for other life-threatening yet preventable diseases like HIV/Aids, Diabetes and Tuberculosis (TB). To help encourage such solutions and increase both the coverage and quality of healthcare solutions available, the RE:SOLVE Challenge is calling on the entrepreneurial and creative spirit of South Africans to pave the way forward.

Funded by the City of Cape Town, and organised by the Craft and Design Institute (CDI), RE:SOLVE invites individuals and teams to come up with innovative solutions. The top ideas that are identified through the Challenge receive kickstart funding to fast-track their early-stage development.

Once the 2021 Call for Entries closes at 17h00 on 31 October 2021, shortlisted ideas will participate in a programme. After this, Finalists will be announced and given the opportunity to prototype their ideas via their share of a total of R100 000 in grant funding on offer.

RE:SOLVE Challenge applications are online only, via: