The move follows the successful piloting in the Ashanti region of the country, says Ebenezer Appiah-Denkyira, director-general of Ghana Health Services (GHS).
The GHS wants all the regional hospitals to be linked to hospitals and community health workers in the periphery through telemedicine.
“We have done well in using telemedicine in educating health workers, diagnosis and offering care and tackling of communicable diseases.”
Ebenezer Appiah-Denkyira, Ghana Health Services
“Telemedicine can help us in achieving that and we hope to make remarkable progress in the next five years,” said Appiah-Denkyira, during a forum in Ghana on digital health at scale in low- and middle-income countries early this month (3 June).
The forum was convened by the GHS and Novartis Foundation that has been involved in the pilot projects.
“Telemedicine is something that we actually need. It has been piloted but but we now want to scale it up to a programme covering the entire country,” explained Appiah-Denkyira, says, adding that in remote locations where pilot projects have been done, 25 per cent of pregnant women have not been to referral hospitals.
“We have done well in using telemedicine in educating health workers, diagnosis and offering care and tackling of communicable diseases,” he says. ”But we also expect to use it in management of non-communicable diseases (NCDs).
According to Ann Aerts, head of Novartis Foundation, four out of every five deaths from NCDs occur in low-income countries because their health systems are insufficiently prepared.
She says telemedicine could help African countries leverage healthcare delivery and the Ghanaian successful pilot projects could be replicated in other parts of the continent.
“There is a need to change the way healthcare is being provided currently for universal coverage…Telemedicine is one of those innovative ways that can improve the knowledge of most health workers for quality and timely healthcare delivery [in Sub-Saharan Africa],” Aerts tells SciDev.Net.
But for this to work, she adds, there has to be political will from the government and the Ghanaian trials have demonstrated that with government involvement, telemedicine surely works.
Alexis Nang-Beifubah, Ashanti region regional director of health services, says that access to healthcare is still a major challenge because of lack of equitable distribution of healthcare facilities.
“Moving knowledge across distances by the physicians using technology other than being there physically to avail health knowledge and skills is crucial in achieving greater health coverage,” he says. He explains that in Ashanti region, there are tele-consultation centres (TCCs) managed by qualified nurses who interact with community health workers in remote locations through mobile phones. The nurses advise the community health workers on how to deal with the diseases reported or act as bridges between them and doctors in complicated cases.
“When the nurses have complicated cases they will call the doctors for advice or recommend referrals to hospitals. Because of this, the number of referrals have gone down drastically in the region,” he says.
Novartis Foundation, he notes, has been instrumental in supporting them to set up the TCCs and this has translated into improving knowledge, skills and competence of community health workers.
This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.