Digital Economy and Healthcare Services in Nigeria

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Digital economy is defined as an economy that is based on digital computing technologies. In this mode, businesses are conducted through markets connected to the internet and the World Wide Web. Most often, it is also referred to as the Internet Economy, New Economy, or Web Economy. It is an economy that is built on billions of everyday on-line connections among people, businesses, devices, data, and processes.

The digital economy runs on the interconnectedness of people, organisations and machines that result from the Internet, mobile technology and the internet of things (IoT). It is underpinned by the spread of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) across all business sectors to enhance its productivity. The concept has completely transformed our notions about how businesses are structured. It has changed how consumers obtain services, information and goods, as well as how individuals, organisations and states need to adapt to these new regulatory challenges.

My foremost agenda is to defend, repackage pharmacy profession – Lolu Ojo, PSN presidential aspirant
Pharm. (Dr) Obalolu Ojo

According to the 2019 report published by United Nation Conference for Trade and Development (UNCTAD 2019), the expansion of digital economy is driven by digital data, which has recorded exponential growth in the past few years. From the report’s top-lines, the Internet Protocol (IP) traffic grew from 100GB/day in 1992 to >45,000 GB/second in 2017. The global Internet Protocol (IP) traffic is projected to reach 150,700 GB by 2022.

Internet users had grown from 16 million people (about 0.4 per cent of the world’s population) in December, 1995, to 4.6 billion people (59.6 per cent of world’s population) in June, 2020. This phenomenal growth in the amount of usage has turned the world into a global village. The internet has made distances shorter and the world smaller.

Local trends

Nigeria has been part of the internet revolution. The number of internet users grew from 42.84 million people (23.7 per cent of the population) in 2015 to the estimated figure of 96.05 million (46.6 per cent of the population) in 2020 and it is further projected to reach 152.28 million (or 65.3 per cent) of the population by 2025.

This phenomenal growth in internet or digital technology adoption has transformed our lives and changed the way we do things in the country. It used to be the practice that whenever you wanted to call a relation or business associate, partner or friend abroad, you had to go to NITEL (the now defunct national telecommunication giant) and queue up to access the international call facility. That time, only few Nigerians had the IDD (or whatever they called it then) that would allow international calls from the comfort of your home.

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Today, thanks to the mobile communication technology, we can make all calls, local, international or otherwise, at any time or place of our choice.  The impact of technology has also been tremendous on banking transactions which used to be a nightmare in those days. In my university days in the early 80s, we usually spent a whole day to withdraw N10 from the bank. Today, again, thanks to the digital technology adoption, banking transactions have become very easy. You can do your transactions from the corner of your home or office. There are many other aspects of our lives which digital technology has transformed and we are the better for it.

Data value chain

An important aspect of the digital economy relates to data collection and utilisation. There are different types of data – which could be personal or non-personal, private or public – and they can be employed for commercial or government purposes. The data can be volunteered, observed or inferred. They could be sensitive or non-sensitive.

Due to this unique nature of data, there has been the evolution of a new data value chain” comprising organisations that support data collection, the production of insights from data, data storage, analysis and modelling. In this chain, value creation is derived from the transformation of data into digital intelligence and monetised through commercial use.

In the digital economy, goods, services, data, etc are digitally ordered and digitally delivered through digitally enabled intermediary platforms by corporations, S\Es, households, governments and others. Available statistics indicate that the global worth of the digital economy is about $3 trillion and this was generated in the past 20 years of internet introduction.

Geographical spread

However, there is an uneven geographical development of digital economy around the world. In the developing countries, about one in five people uses internet, compared to four in five in the more economically advanced countries.

Two countries – United States of America and China – account for:75 per cent of all patents related to block chain technologies

50 per cent of global spending on Internet of Things (IoT)

More than 75 per cent of the world market for public cloud computing. 90 per cent of the global 70 largest digital platforms.

The share for the whole of Europe  is 4 per cent

Africa and Latin America together constitute only 1 per cent

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67 per cent of the total market value is held by American and Chinese corporations like Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, Google, Facebook, Tencent, Alibaba and others.

For Africa to move up from this very low and insignificant level, we need to apply digital technology in our business, government and household transactions.

Digital economy components

The components of digital economy can be summarised into 3 major groups:

–  E-business infrastructure:

This component relates to the hardware, software, telecommunication, networks, human capital and others that form the foundation that holds the digital economy in place.

– E-business:

This relates to how the business is conducted, that is, any or all the processes that an organisation employs to conduct business over computer-mediated networks.

– E-commerce:

This is the component that covers the transfer of goods and services – as, for example, when a book is sold online.

Impact on healthcare delivery

The digital and internet revolution has also impacted the healthcare delivery system and practice despite the conservative nature of this sector. The technological revolution has changed the norms in healthcare and some of the impact areas will be briefly discussed here.

The innovative digital solutions have resulted in many breakthroughs in data collection, treatments, research and medical devices, such as hearing aids and many others. There have been far-reaching changes in diagnosis and service delivery, personalised care and access, improvement in research and development, financial outcomes, transparency and cost optimisation, etc.

The overall impact is that there are better and more accessible treatment options for a wide variety of diseases, better and more efficient care for the sick and better healthcare delivery system. There are many specific impacts which will be covered in the follow up to this article.

The pharmaceutical landscape

Specifically on the pharmaceutical sector, the revolutionary changes offered by the internet have changed everything that we used to know. There is now the emergence of online transaction which has improved the ease and convenience of business activities hitherto thought to be impossible.

Business activities like payment of bills, managing of investment, information gathering, access to a wide range of various products available for sale, access to healthcare and healthcare products, have largely been simplified by online transactions. Just as it happened in the banking sector in Nigeria, the community pharmacy practice will join the revolution sooner than later.

The concept of online pharmacy has crept into the Nigerian economic space without a “formal invitation’, that is, without any formal or officially gazetted guidelines or rules. Medicines are now available on digital platforms and potential buyers have direct access to them, which is against the protocol of drug procurement and utilisation. As it is today, the healthcare system in Nigeria is in crisis. We have a huge gap between the required numbers of different categories of personnel, service levels, quality and affordability, compared to the buying power of an average Nigerian and the huge population that needs quality healthcare. The pharmacist service ratio (Less than one per 10000 population) is most appalling; but with digital technology, we have the opportunity to expand pharmacists’ service to Nigerians beyond the confines of a physical location.

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To put it mildly, we must embrace the technology-driven initiative and provide more services to our people. At the same time, we must put in place measures that will guarantee safety and effectiveness of medicines that will be available through the on-line platform.

A digital Nigeria

The way to go, therefore, is create a digital Nigeria to achieve social and economic goals. The financial inclusion, that we so much desired, cannot happen on a large scale if there is no digital Nigeria. Digital economy is now about 15 per cent of the global Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and it is projected to reach 25 per cent in 10 years. We must join this fast-moving train now.

Nigeria is not there yet but we must mine the human capital that we have in abundance. To do this, we need a STRATEGIC MIND SET among other ingredients of success. A mindset that is focused on value creation. A leadership that is visionary and target-driven and we shall get there with the right people, right process and right mindset.

The future belongs to the young generation and with about 42.54 per cent of the population falling between 0-14 age group, Nigeria has a youthful human resource base that can transform her economy digitally. The time is now for the nation’s youths, the young pharmacists in particular, to adopt a strategic and digital mindset, focus on value creation rather than short term gratification, create value always and wherever they find themselves, train and retrain themselves for more value addition. They should stop complaining. Rather, they should get ready and go ahead and take over. They should go digital.

(With inputs from Pharm Juwon Otelaja, Pharm Adeyemi Yusuff and Pharm Setofunmi Adeyinka)

By Pharm. (Dr)  Lolu Ojo, BPharm, MBA, PharmD, FPCPharm, FPSN, FNAPharm

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