While smart technology has allowed efficient medical data management and closer monitoring of our health, preventing more serious diseases in the process, the healthcare sector adopting it en masse has raised serious privacy concerns. 

South Africa is currently adopting smart healthcare technology to improve the quality of patient care, reduce costs, improve preventive care, and allow access even to the most remote areas. However, this progress could also put patients and their sensitive medical data at risk in the cyberworld.

According to Doros Hadjizenonos, Fortinet Regional Sales Director for the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region, the Internet of Things (IoT) and the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) are being adopted for progress in the healthcare sector in an increasing rate. Fortinet is an American multinational cybersecurity company based in Sunnyvale, California.

"These tiny, connected devices are being deployed to monitor patient's vital signs and treatment, track pharmaceuticals and control medical equipment throughout hospitals," Hadjizenonos commented, as reported by South African news aggregator IOL. "We are seeing adoption and interest from private hospital chains locally, who are considering IoT for efficiencies, for managing patients and analysing data," he added.

(Photo: Photo by Phill Magakoe / AFP)
Healthcare workers brief people queueing for their vaccines about the different vaccines available to administer outside the Transvaco Covid-19 vaccine train stationed at the Springs Train Station outside of Johannesburg on August 25, 2021. - Transvaco's role is purely to administer Covid-19 vaccines to communities that have limited healthcare resources.

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South Africa: Fast-Growing IoT Market in the Region

Worldwide spending on IoT and other smart technology is projected to pass the $1 trillion mark by 2024, according to the IDC Worldwide Internet of Things Spending Guide forecast last May 2021.

Among the markets assessed, South Africa emerged as one of the fastest-growing markets in the Middle East and Africa (MEA) region, growing at a projected CAGR of 14 percent in five years from 2020 to 2025.

Additionally, according to AllTheResearch, an independent global market research firm, the IoMT market was valued at  $44.5 million in 2018 and is expected to reach $254.2 million by 2026.

Smart technology, including wearable devices, videoconferencing apps, and telemedicine solutions, has become valuable parts of the broader ecosystem making healthcare more cost-efficient and accessible. 

Looming Security and User Privacy Risk

In the same IOL report, Fortinet Subject Matter Expert for Operational Technology Matthew Taljaard noted some risks with the widespread adoption of smart technology for healthcare. He explained that user privacy and cybersecurity are existing concerns in healthcare since medical records are prime targets of cybercriminals.

Citing Fortinet data, Taljaard explained that medical records are roughly worth ten times more compared to credit card numbers when it comes to the black market.

The Fortinet SME added, "On top of that, as we have seen in the industrial sector, as IT and OT converge, cyber risk can threaten health and safety in the physical domain," noting that it could even put patient lives at risk once attackers access these sensitive pieces of information.

This led the multinational cybersecurity company to stress the importance of building security in designing the changing healthcare environment. Since it is virtually impossible to integrate security measures into small devices, the solution must be implemented at a larger scale, detecting and monitoring all devices and securing the traffic between these devices.


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