2 December 2011 | EN
Africa needs basic prevention alongside high-tech healthcare solutions
[NAIROBI] Importing or copying the latest 'e-health' technology from developed countries may not be the best way forward for health services in Africa, a conference has heard.
A focus on high-tech healthcare solutions could come at the expense of basic prevention such as access to clean water and sanitation, good nutrition and hygiene, and health education, said experts at the AfriHealth conference in Kenya, this week (30 November–1 December).
In a continent where 80 per cent of illnesses stem from preventable infectious diseases, this is a move in the wrong direction, said Yunkap Kwankam, executive director of the International Society for Telemedicine and eHealth.
"While we have a lot to learn in this field from practitioners in the developed world, we must take utmost care not to lose sight of the health needs of our people, as we seem to be doing now," said Kwankam.
"Most African health needs can be solved by the age-old basics of water and sanitation, nutrition and hygiene; if we concentrate on these we will make big strides in the lives of our people."
The conference heard that there was a lack of national e-health and telemedicine strategies (only six African countries have developed a strategy so far) and there is a lack of laws guiding their practice.
Other challenges facing the roll-out of new e-health initiatives are the lack of a legal framework on what qualifies people to work as e-health professionals and the digital divide in skills between the younger and older generations of healthcare professionals.
"E-health in Africa is often practised by non-professionals such as ICT technicians and nurses," said Kwankam. "Countries have not developed criteria on who an e-health professional should be, or what qualifications are needed to be certified as a professional."
Margaret Ogalo, a doctor with Kenya's health ministry said: "The question of how we deal with an older generation of physicians, who are the majority in developing countries and who attended college before the ICT explosion, must be addressed.
"While the younger generation has no problem with new ways of delivering health services, the older generation are resisting and are uncomfortable with situations where we can consult with patients we are not physically seeing," she added.
The majority of older professionals fear the consequences if a diagnosis or consultation conducted remotely via telemedicine goes wrong, according to Shariq Khoja, coordinator of the e-health programme at Aga Khan University, which has health faculties in Kenya and Pakistan.
"It is because of these kinds of concerns that many older professionals seem to have doubts about e-health and telemedicine, and laws need to be put in place to accommodate and mainstream this branch of medicine," said Khoja.
Daniel Murenzi ( Rwanda )
5 December 2011
Please never compare all African the same, like we do not do the same for European countries. I would request you to withdraw your comment and first know where we are, I mean Rwanda. You might be knowing Africa in different ways, our direction is so clear and we know what we need. there is a big forum for eHealth were Us Rwandese were're on the group. Please get to know what other countries are doing before generalizing issues.
Eng. Daniel M
Godfrey masai ( Kenya )
5 December 2011
I disagree with Murenzi. My take is we embrace the basics of good nutrition, basic hygiene such as just hand washing and availability of safe/clean drinking water will see more positive changes that being stereotype.
Godfrey Masai from Kenya.
Dr Najeeb Al-Shorbaji ( Switzerland )
5 December 2011
I tend to agree with the comment from the colleague from Rwanda. The title of the article and the first part of it are totally wrong and misleading and even damaging to the efforts of many good and hardworking people who believe that information and communication technology can contribute to improving quality of health services, reducing the cost of services and making equitable access more attainable. I think the article has totally missed the point. eHealth is not a replacement of healthcare professionals, water, medicines, healthcare services, primary health care, etc. It is a set of policies and tools that enable access to health services and health information. It empowers practitioners and citizens. I agree that most countries don’t have national eHealth plans or roadmaps, there is lack of qualified or at least trained national cadre to lead eHealth, there is acute shortage of information and communication technology infrastructure and legal frameworks and most important there is still shortage of public private partnerships to support eHealth in African countries. Most shocking to note towards the end of the article an implication that eHealth/ telemedicine is a branch of medicine. Telemedicine is not a branch of medicine and eHealth is simply the use of information and communication technology for health.
Matimba ( Zimbabwe )
8 December 2011
I agree with Dr Al Shorbaji that the title may be 'misleading' and that eHealth is not a replacement, should rather complement the current systems and services. The article makes a valid point that more basic interventions are needed. I challenge the eHealth community to engage to provide easy to use applications and products to make the transitions easier for the 'older generation'. I am interested in knowing what really makes medical professionals resistant to eHealth and if the reasons cannot be addressed by more participatory protocols including the target users, when developing the eHealth systems.
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