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Why Africa Must Embrace E-Health

07 July, 2014

Source: ICT Africa

Kihara Kimachia

It's a fact, health is wealth; investments in health care directly translate into economic growth. It is also a fact that technology is a force multiplier that allows a country to derive multiple benefits in the health care sector.

In several places in Africa, there are already great investments in technology. A key example is Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa and several other African countries where there is a hub of entrepreneurial activity in technology. Merging technology and healthcare allows policy makers to get a multiple effect that not only positively affects the health of citizens but is also beneficial to the economy.

The following are some key areas where the convergence of healthcare and technology will result in massive cost savings and allow a greater number of Africans to access high quality cheap medical care in addition to a host of other benefits.

Micro Insurance
In Kenya, the country's leading telecoms company Safaricom, insurer Britam and a company called Tangaza have partnered to come up with Linda Jamii, a micro insurance health policy targeted at low income earners. By charging a low premium fee, the scheme targets over one million families. The beauty of this is that it makes use of M-Pesa, Safaricom's mobile money platform. Customers make micro premium payments using M-Pesa. This initiative provides poor families in Kenya with a way to hedge against catastrophic costs of medical care.

Remote Consulting
Remote consulting is an emerging area in health care. One of problems rural Africa faces is access to high quality medical personnel. Most highly qualified consultants prefer to work from the cities due to the hardships associated with setting up shop in remote locations. Also, many remote areas do not have sufficient infrastructure and trained personnel to facilitate installation of expensive equipment such as advanced radiography and scanning machines. However, using technology such as VOIP and Video calling, technicians or doctors on the ground can now consult with experts in real-time. A technician in a remote location can literally be walked through a procedure by an expert. Remote consulting will eliminate the need of having to refer non-complicated patient cases in rural areas to hospitals in the cities, a common practice across much of Africa.

Across all of Africa, there is a dire shortage of nurses yet they play a critical role in the delivery of healthcare. One of major constraints to training additional nurses and upgrading the skills of existing nurses is that nursing schools can only accommodate a few students at a time. Also, when existing nurses take time off to upgrade their skills, health care delivery is compromised due to the existing shortage of nurses. One of the ways to enhance the skills of nurses is to harness the power of technology, specifically, using e-learning to enhance the skills of nurses.

In Kenya, the government urgently needed to enhance the skills of trained nurses. They approached AMREF (African Medical Research Foundation) for a solution. AMREF, the Kenyan Ministry of Health and the Nursing Council of Kenya came up with an e-learning curriculum. Accenture, the global management firm was contracted to set up the required infrastructure. The program has so far been a resounding success leading to interest in its replication in other African countries, including Malawi, Rwanda, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.


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