The fourth industrial revolution will allow South Africa to leapfrog to a better future, but there is a need to recognise the true value of this suite of technologies and deploy them correctly.
This was the point Ernest Darkoh, founder of BroadReach Healthcare stressed as he highlighted the advantages of the fourth industrial revolution to the health industry in a presentation that he gave on day two of the Hospital Association of South Africa conference 2023, that was held in Cape Town.
“What we need is the right solutions powered by the right innovation and technology and those must be in the hands of the right people who know how to deploy it effectively,” he said. “More often than not, we’re kind of headed in the wrong direction because we do not understand the actual problem that needs to be addressed.”
He used an example of where he was once contracted by a pharmaceutical company to find out why their cancer drugs were not being used. He did a deep root analysis and found that it wasn’t an issue of doctor training but rather patients were being diagnosed late. So late that many had to be placed on palliative care.
“It was so severe that almost none of the drugs were being used, this because at the primary care level there is no capacity or ability to accurately diagnose on site,” Darkoh said. Rather than deploying innovative solutions, in this case, he added, it would be better to facilitate better identification at the primary care level.
The fourth industrial revolution is a set of technologies that include AI, robotics, drones, the Internet of Things, blockchain, quantum computing and even genetic engineering. Countries around the world are using these different technologies to a varying degree.
The problem, believes Darkoh, is that there is a certain amount of resistance to adopting these new technologies and that needs to be overcome. Another problem is that 4th industrial technologies are often seen as a nice to have in South Africa.
“It’s about how technology enabled the right solution. And that’s how you unlock the value,” he said.
And while South Africa might be lagging behind in the implementation of 4IR tech, Darkoh believes there is still a massive opportunity to be had, if the right kind of people handle the innovation and take the charge.
“Entrepreneurs know how to do that. With all due respect, the government doesn’t want to do that. Academics don’t know how to do that. In many cases even large corporations don’t know how to do that,” Darkoh explained.
He further suggested that the 4IR should be made a national priority in the country. This with an approach where care is made not to reinvent the wheel, that could set the country back five or six years. Darkoh singled out Rwanda as a country with the national mindset that is willing to embrace this kind of technological change.
“Finally we need to be bold and we need to go big, the impact of our solutions must match the scale of our problems,” said Darkoh.