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[ How Innovation Is Sparking Hope In Healthcare in CEE ]

#ConfidentInsight, EN 12.10.2021

Overview

Countries in Central & Eastern Europe initially seemed to have weathered the pandemic rather well. However, since the second wave, it has become clear that the creaking infrastructure, lack of investment, and the brain drain in the healthcare system across the region has exposed the region’s vulnerability. 

Although spending on healthcare has increased in absolute numbers across the CEE over the last decade, it lags far behind Western Europe in terms of its investment into healthcare, accounting for, on average, about 5% of GDP. Western Europe averages 8%.This bears out through the far lower mortality rate. Access to healthcare, digitally, is also an issue with some of the CEE, for instance, in comparison to 97% of Denmark having internet access, only 66% of Bulgarians are online.

Innovation

The pandemic-fuelled boom in demand for healthcare has continued to drive investment and interest into the sector. The period has seen a fertile funding environment for digital health scale-ups, and we have seen 5-10 years of healthcare change and innovation in just 18 months across the sector. 

Despite lagging behind Western Europe in terms of numbers of companies innovating in healthcare (across the whole of Europe, the number of healthtech startups between 2101-2020 in the CEE was only less in Benelux) , there are still some impressive advances being made within the startup ecosystem, and even information sharing in exploring digital health initiatives between countries is starting with partnerships building between hubs ie. Cluj IT Cluster (Romania), Technology Parc Ljubljana (Slovenia), Pannon Business Network (Hungary), and Transilvania IT (Romania).

Startups are sprouting up across the region, bringing advances in all areas of healthcare, including bio-nanotechnology, cancer treatment, mortality rate, stroke recovery, and skin protection. Consumer digital health apps have rocketed in numbers since the pandemic, allowing individuals to monitor themselves, including for mental health issues. 

Below are just six companies in CEE developing innovative solutions to healthcare development:

  1. Infermedica (Poland) – develops AI-assisted diagnosis and triage platforms. It also developed tools last year to help fight the coronavirus pandemic, creating a free risk assessment platform. The company raised $10m last year in funding. www.infermedica.com 
  2. BrachyDOSE (Lithuania) – have developed a quality control tool for cancer treatment, which provides more effective and personalised treatment.www.brachydose.com 
  3. Femyo (Romania) – its vision is to cut the at-birth and infant mortality rate in Europe by half. It is building the first digital health management organisation in Europe, to ensure that all subscribers are able to give the best start in life for their children. www.femyo.ro  
  4. Docplanner (Poland) – one of the 5 biggest digital health companies in Europe, which is an appointment booking platform and management software provider for doctors. Announced this month that it had raised $1bn in fundraising. www.docplanner.com 
  5. Vigo (Latvia) – develops a prescription rehabilitation guide that uses artificial intelligence to help people recover faster and more efficiently from a stroke, by providing therapy guidance, practical assistance and tools based on cognitive behaviour therapy, within a mobile app.www.vigo.health  
  6. Xeno Cell Innovations (Czech Republic) – uses biotechnology and AI to be able to show the overall health of living organisms, in order to be able to prevent diseases. www.xenocells.com 

Solutions

One of the most important areas that needs to be resolved in healthcare in CEE is funding, not just the amount, but also how it is allocated. Funding levels are still relatively far behind the rest of Europe, which has led to Central & Eastern Europe not gaining the exposure it deserves. More investment by the public sector into the existing system, and seeing it as an investment, not a cost, is a key challenge. Investing in health creates wealth. More funding initiatives from the private sector are also necessary for the startup scene to help take the innovation being created to a platform and level where the companies can flourish. 

With 40-50% of the skilled workforce across the region living and working abroad, countries need to tackle the issue of retaining both trained and untrained doctors and nurses to create a healthy ecosystem, and reduce the brain drain that so heavily affects the CEE. 

Currently, and despite the pandemic, the majority of investment is allocated into treatments for illnesses. With the startup scene focusing a lot more on preventive advances, and diagnostic solutions, looking at the causes rather than the symptoms, a greater percentage of investment into these areas is a must.  

The pandemic has certainly highlighted the fragility of many countries’ healthcare systems within the CEE, however with a positive and more collaborative startup scene across the region, there is a quietly confident feeling that, with the right political and financial priorities put in place, leading to more visibility of the innovation in the region, there are potential shoots of growth in healthcare around the CEE. 

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