Samsung has begun manufacturing digital radiography, in-vitro diagnostics and ultrasound equipment suitable for both urban and rural health care centres. The devices have built in digital capabilities that allow them to send high quality imaging and information to healthcare clinics anywhere in the world. While BMI believes Samsung's devices could be well suited to the healthcare needs of East Africa's large rural population, we fear that low broadband penetration will limit its impact.
Samsung's move into the medical devices segment is not new among consumer electronics companies. Sony and Cannon have also made acquisitions in the medical device industry and Netherlands-based Philips has completely shifted its focus to the medical sector, having sold the remnants of its consumer electronics segment to Japan's Funai Electric for US$201.8mn in January 2013.
|Better Chances In Some Countries|
|East Africa Broadband Penetration Forecast (%)|
Samsung's digital radiology equipment comes in various models, including mobile versions which can be used in a number of locations. The ultrasound equipment could be used for obstetrics, gynaecology, cardiology and general surgery practices and the in-vitro blood analysers can provide accurate test results in seven minutes. The ability to transmit this information to urban healthcare centres will be key in East Africa, as in Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Mozambique and Uganda, between 68.5% and 80.6% of the total population lives in rural areas.
While it is not clear yet how much its newest devices have been tailored to local needs, we expect Samsung will draw on some of the strengths of an initiative it launched in April 2013 in South Africa, where it deployed mobile health clinics in trucks, equipped with ear, eye and dental services and capable of running simple blood tests for HIV, malaria and diabetes, among other things. The 7-metre long trucks were robust enough for rural travel and the devices relied on power generated from rooftop solar panels.
The major challenge for Samsung's newly launched medical devices, as for many health monitoring programmes, is the lack of broadband penetration in rural East Africa. With broadband penetration in East and Central Africa to remain low throughout our forecast period, only increasing from 3.8% in 2012 to 7.5% in 2017, the use of the digital information transmission feature will be limited. Nonetheless, even without higher broadband penetration, if Samsung's devices are robust and cost-efficient enough to reach clinic in rural areas, they could still have a significant impact. According to data from BMI's Burden of Disease Database (BoDD) show that almost 1.3mn DALYs (disability-adjusted life years) were lost to maternal conditions; perinatal conditions; birth asphyxia and birth trauma in Kenya in 2012, and almost 5mn DALYs were lost to HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis C and malaria highlighting the need for new devices to bring healthcare outside cities.