Zimbabwe and many other developing countries, especially in Africa, are lagging behind when it comes to e-health initiatives, according to a World Health Organisation (WHO) expert.
Hassene Sidatt, a WHO Afro region ICT expert, revealed at an e-health seminar conducted in Harare recently by the Health Informatics Training and Research Advancement Centre (HITRAC) that there is a need to boost e-health initiatives to improve health delivery systems for the benefit of communities.
“E-health has been surpassed by e-banking, e-governance and e-learning initiatives in most of the developing countries,” Sidatt said.
E-health, the cost effective and secure use of information and communication technologies t0 support health and health related fields, is having an impact across developed countries. Sidatt referred to USAID findings that e-health is beginning to have “a transformative effect on equity, efficiency and quality of health systems.”
The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) has initiated the ehealth For All by 2015 initiative, taking cognisance of the importance of ehealth.The WHO itself has created the Global Observatory for ehealth (GOE), a repository with important information on ehealth matters.
“The WHO Assembly in 2005 resolution recognised the increasing importance of ehealth,” Sidatt said, and emphasised the need for more research to show the benefits of ehealth, and more adoption of ehealth solutions for low resource settings.
Across the world e-health applications have been initiated for e-health records, virtual care networks and telemedicine, which use telecommunication and information technologies in order to provide clinical healthcare at a distance. Telemedicine, which is reported to be growing at a fast pace, is mostly applied on remote rural areas.
Other e-health applications include patient and health professional portals and e-health information systems for public health surveillance. E-health can also buildstronger health systems through better coordination of care among caregivers. It can also be used to facilitate remote care for isolated, rural or ageing populations, distribute health information and monitor health situations.
Sidatt said WHO has observed a huge gap between the developing and the developed world in terms of e-health applications. He added that the developed world has an advantage of having advanced ICT infrastructure to develop e-health initiatives.
He added that funding and strong support mechanisms from authorities have enhanced e-health programmes in developed countries.
Sidatt said a recent WHO survey has revealed that the BRICS countries, namely Brazil, China, India and South Africa, are leading on e-health initiatives and their projects are developing fast.
ln Africa, most of the projects are reported to be at pilot stage. However, Sidatt said Kenya has been singled out for aking noteable progress on e-health following advances made on its e-banking initiatives. Sidatt added that there is need for sustainability of e-health initiatives and adoption of correct economical models supported by national strategies and policies. He also advocates for the adoption of Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) initiatives for e-health applications.
“E-health initiatives are necessary to achieve MDGs using technology to address priorities,” Sidatt said.
He added that WHO has developed an e-health development framework to support countries wishing to initiate ehealth programmes. He urged Zimbabwe’s health ministry and the ministry of ICTs to collaborate on ehealth initiatives.
Seminar organisers HITRAC are housed under the University of Zimbabwe (UZ) College of Health Sciences. The seminar was conducted by HITRAC in collaboration with Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Health and Child Welfare under the theme: E-health and the patient: building a framework for patient care in the electronic era.