Background: Innovative strategies such as digital health are needed to ensure attainment of the ambitious universal health coverage in Africa. However, their successful deployment on a wider scale faces several challenges on the continent. This article reviews the key benefits and challenges associated with the application of digital health for universal health coverage and propose a conceptual framework for its wide scale deployment in Africa.
Discussion: Digital health has several benefits. These include; improving access to health care services especially for those in hard-to-reach areas, improvements in safety and quality of healthcare services and products, improved knowledge and access of health workers and communities to health information; cost savings and efficiencies in health services delivery; and improvements in access to the social, economic and environmental determinants of health, all of which could contribute to the attainment of universal health coverage. However, digital health deployment in Africa is constrained by challenges such as poor coordination of mushrooming pilot projects, weak health systems, lack of awareness and knowledge about digital health, poor infrastructure such as unstable power supply, poor internet connectivity and lack of interoperability of the numerous digital health systems. Digital health is therefore not the panacea to attainment of universal health coverage. Their usefulness and sustainability can only be assured within the broader framework of resilient health systems and communities.
Conclusion: Further evidence and a conceptual framework are needed for successful and sustainable deployment of digital health for universal health coverage in Africa.
Keywords: Digital Health, e-health, Telemedicine, elearning, mHealth, Sustainable development goals, Universal Health Coverage, resilient health systems, Africa