COVID-19 has pushed many healthcare systems to their breaking point, with devastating consequences for global health. But these setbacks have also ignited or bolstered positive healthcare trends that will dramatically reshape how patients receive treatment in the coming years.
These healthcare trends largely center on the rise of digital health–spurred on by COVID–to address supply chain failings and offer new, more user-friendly treatment pathways in emerging markets. We predict this digital health transformation will be increasingly sophisticated and dominant in the global healthcare landscape in 2022.
5 Emerging Market Healthcare Trends for 2022
Below, we take a look at five current trends in healthcare in emerging markets that have the highest potential to gain traction and create an impact in the coming year.
1. Digital Health Solutions for Supply Chain Woes
Emerging markets are moving quickly in the wake of the pandemic to address health manufacturing and distribution bottlenecks related to limited supply, international competition, and underdeveloped infrastructure, particularly as they contend with a sobering lack of COVID-19 vaccine support from wealthy countries. At the same time, more emerging markets are coming online with smartphone adoption skyrocketing. The result? Innovative digital health supply chain solutions are booming.
For example, in Nigeria, DrugStoc launched an integrated tech platform that buys directly from manufacturers and leverages an internally-created value chain to improve distribution and customer experience.
Other digital supply chain solutions focus on traceability, cold chain monitoring, inventory management, and logistics management to better connect pharmaceutical products to patients and providers.
2. A Rise in Virtual Healthcare and Telehealth
In the age of COVID, digital health solutions like virtual care and telehealth are rapidly gaining traction. As governments clear roadblocks and consumers become more comfortable with the idea of remote healthcare, entrepreneurs in emerging markets are delivering user-friendly digital health solutions tailored to the needs of local markets—and ushering in a new era of digital-first treatment.
In some cases, emerging markets are primed to leapfrog their higher-income neighbors, particularly when it comes to using newer technology like AI.
In one study, nearly 80% of consumers in Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and the Philippines cited a preference for remote consultations with their healthcare providers. And Ghanaian healthcare social enterprise mPharma plans to open 100 virtual centers in seven markets across Africa over the next six months. The company is building digital stethoscopes, otoscopes, thermometers, high-definition camera tools, and more telehealth tools to support a digital primary care service for consumers across the continent.
3. More Demand for Digital Health Governance and Regulation
Digital health is largely driven by innovators operating outside of government. As the digital health field takes off, we expect to see more questions around the role of government in integrating digital health within existing local healthcare systems, setting standards, managing and shepherding data, and encouraging interoperability across numerous, proliferating digital health platforms.
To that end, the World Health Organization (WHO) has developed a Global Strategy on Digital Health that prioritizes the need for stronger global and national governance of digital health.
“While digital technology holds great promise, in the end it is only a tool,” WHO notes, “It is up to us to use it wisely….With the right oversight and regulatory guidance, digital health can be a powerful tool for building a healthier, safer and fairer world.”
4. A Growing Push to Address COVID-Related Health Inequities
In the wake of COVID, concerns about health equity have come to the fore. Vaccine access continues to be a pressing issue for emerging markets worldwide. Many may not gain broad vaccine coverage until 2024-25, resulting in sustained COVID cases, the rise of new variants like Delta and Omicron, additional mortalities, and pushing tens of millions of people into poverty. To date, nearly 93% of the people living in lower- and middle-income countries (LMICs) remain unvaccinated.
Last month, the African Vaccine Acquisition Trust (AVAT), the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), and COVAX issued a joint statement after receiving several soon-to-expire COVID vaccine donations on short notice. The organizations and several others assert that the quality (and quantity) of vaccine donations to LMICs must improve to avoid stressing already stretched domestic health systems.
In the coming year, we expect to see greater advocacy, innovation, and coordination to address debilitating health inequities related to how we anticipate, manage, and combat the pandemic on a global scale.
5. New Treatment Models for Noncommunicable Diseases
Pre-pandemic, global organizations were beginning to emphasize chronic, noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer, which collectively represent the leading cause of death globally. This healthcare trend continues even as COVID rages on.
NCDs have historically been difficult—and expensive—to treat, particularly in emerging markets, where health infrastructure is often underdeveloped. But the relative affordability of telehealth puts the cost of care within reach for millions of new patients. Digital tools and apps also better suit the nature of the regular, ongoing care needed to improve and sustain outcomes for NCDs.
This past year we highlighted several promising digital health initiatives targeting NCDs—including innovations and partnerships from PATH and Clínicas del Azúcar in Vietnam and Mexico and Novartis and Medtronic in Kenya and India.
Translating Emerging Healthcare Trends Into Impact
These five current trends in healthcare have been intimately shaped by COVID-19. Indeed, as many global organizations have noted, the pandemic’s silver lining is the acceleration of a digital health transformation. But true success will require a concerted, broad-based effort. Expanded health access and sustainable growth of promising new digital health solutions will require inclusive innovation, collaboration across the global health ecosystem, and novel digital health business models tailored to emerging markets.
In 2022, we look forward to continuing the conversation with local and global changemakers about how to innovate with impact and build strong, mutually beneficial partnerships to drive a brighter, more equitable healthcare future in emerging markets worldwide.