The Burkinabè professor Savayé Gnoumou is considered as one of the founders of e-health in Africa. Nevertheless, he’s far from seeing himself as an innovator, an inventor, or a technology genius, because his ideas came from the simple needs he had during his career. A remote medicine close to the ground, which inspires a whole new generation during the actual pandemic.
By Simon Vermot Desroches
First respected surgeon, the Burkinabè doctor Sayavé Gnoumou is also one of the African Union experts on e-health matters and the president of the medical council of the company Nazounki, that realized international medical follow-up. But when we ask him how is he became one of the fathers of e-health, he’s surprised, “you flatter me !” and goes on: “telemedicine exists for a long time. When militaries use their phone to evacuate injured persons by transmitting data, it is telemedicine. When astronauts are remotely followed and cured, it is also thanks to telemedicine.” It is as simple for him, e-health is just a tool to cure, and technology has only been there at the right time to help him heal his patients.
“Africa, where everything needs to be done, has always been central to my concerns”
Everything starts when he’s working as a corresponding doctor in the general surgery service in Neuilly’s US hospital. He just got graduated. First of general medicine in Ouagadougou University and then in France to get specialization in surgery, at the Jules Verne University of Picardie, and finally in the emergency unit of Henri Mondor Hospital. “But Africa, where everything needs to be done, has always been central to my concerns. African embassies and companies regularly requested my opinion to solve cases in big Parisian hospitals,” Sayavé Gnoumou explains. But to follow-up on his patients, there are some problems: “To be efficient, it was essential to get a complete medical information as possible before transferring the patient. The most reliable solution was to set up a digital patient record, or a shared medical record that can be transferred only if some pieces of information are filled. I was lucky enough to have experts in data processing, whom I was often challenging. This shared record, created in 2002, was my first e-health realization.” A remote cardiac surveillance system and work on medical imaging will follow.
“Those solutions and others that I created were solely in service of my patients and our experts’ network, to find a solution to our problems. Unintentionally, I was in the middle of the medical data processing world.” Just and only common sense for the surgeon, but it becomes an infectious disease on the continent. “Just by looking at the number of solutions against Covid-19 that young people and their innovative spirit developed in each African country, you understand this is a gold mine.”
Prevention, the next challenge of telemedicine
A gold mine that the doctor wants to operate on. “This youth need to be oriented and supported when it is about creating for medicine and health. And this is one of our aims. I have some young people’s teams in different countries that I train and coach in this particular domain. You know, for the bank system we didn’t need a lot of time to get into mobile money. There was a business for mobile operators, and they did it. Health is not a business like banking, but we can reach that level of popularization for telemedicine.” But alone, he will not be able to do it and call for the help of African politicians, even if, and he knows it, e-health is not as fancy as building a brand new hospital: “It is true that when you look at the investment, you can get the impression that this is a lot of money for something invisible. And some people will prefer to invest in heavy, spectacular and visible things, like an advertisement before an election.” But except this barrier, the doctor doesn’t see any obstacles to the digitalization, mainly because of “the initial reluctance of the medical staff, a little bit conservative, doesn’t exist anymore.”
Last but not least, Sayavé Gnoumou doesn’t forget that greater use of those devices could create a reserve of data for the continent opening new ways to analyze and predict sanitary crises, diseases spread… This is the future of telemedicine. This system could compensate for difficulties in places where there are no doctors, which is, one more time, just common sense because “as an old professor once said, the better resuscitation is the one we don’t need to do,” the surgeon concludes.
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