E-health slow to take off in Africa

By Issa Sikiti da Silva, Dakar, Senegal

A medical expert in Senegal told Biztechafrica that the complexities of e-health make this sector too difficult to be truly accepted and adopted by many African governments.

“E-health has too many components that need all to be connected or well-connected to see its best results. In short, e-health is too complex and expensive, and for African countries whose healthcare systems are inadequate and in disarray, e-health is like a poison,” he said.

The medical doctor who has worked on a number of health projects across the continent said it was impossible to implement e-health in the current context.

“That’s why there is no appetite for many governments to take a bite of this food because they know that they won’t even be able to chew it, let alone swallow it,” he said.

“You can even see that there is no support from many African governments about this e-health project. Budgets are tight and money is a problem.”

The medical doctor spoke on condition of anonymity because he was bound by company policy not to speak to the media about this sensitive issue.

Despite this complexity, some African countries have taken the bite out of e-health, but experts said there is a long way to go for the continent to be reckoned as an e-health force.

According to Frost & Sullivan, despite many African countries adopting policies there has been limited progress in terms of e-health implementation project in Africa so far, and many e-health projects, it said, have failed to take off, and that 80% of the active projects are still at the pre-implementation/trial stage many years after project initiation.

It is believed that countries such as Ghana, Kenya and South Africa are well-positioned to travel the e-health route. Although South Africa is said to have spent close to R6-billion on e-health projects, many countries have not spent a cent on e-health projects, worrying e-health pioneers who strongly believe that e-health could revolutionise the continent’s health care systems given its unlimited benefits and possibilities. 

The International e-Health Leadership and Development said e-health is capable of offering the following:

--E-health offers new benefits for citizens, patients, carers, health workers and healthcare provider organisations

--The benefits will help to improve health and solve healthcare capacity constraints.

The medical expert said: “Before you start to see these benefits, there are many sophisticated routes a project has to take and many components to go through - some connected to each other and others far apart from each other, and if you succeed to put all these systems together, then you can now talk about a successful e-health.”

He said e-health requires a huge collaboration between the actors involved.

“I’m not being an Afro-pessimist, but I’m a realist because I know how difficult is going to be for Africa to really come up with a solid e-health system.”

The International E-Health Leadership and Development said only an effective governance architecture could help manage the increasing complexity of e-health components.

The organisation cited the following as the components of e-health governance:

1.      decision-taking,

2.      engagement with stakeholders,

3.      collaboration,

4.      stewardship,

5.      probity,

6.      financial control,

7.      financial performance,

8.      reporting including quality and access,

9.      programme and project management,

10.    change management, outcomes

and benefits and promoting ehealth opportunities, investment and benefits.

For Frost & Sullivan, one of the biggest challenges of e-health project implementation is the complexity of tracking success of pilot projects and presenting benefits to key stakeholders and key healthcare providers. “Healthcare delivery is a complex process and eHealth interventions have been cited to have been lost in this complexity.”



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