Kenya launches telemedicine initiative for the poor

nurse on telephone
Copyright: Eric Miller / Panos

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  • The initiative aims to help residents of rural Kenya access quality healthcare
  • It is part of a programme that is helping to tackle non-communicable diseases
  • County governments and stakeholders must invest in telemedicine, says an expert

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[NAIROBI] Kenya has launched the first phase of a national telemedicine initiative that aims to improve access to better healthcare for the rural poor and the marginalised.

The telemedicine programme will provide aplatform that will enable patients and healthcare providers in rural areas to interact with health experts at Kenya’s main referral hospital, Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH), using video conferencing.

The initiative is a partnership of Kenya’s Ministry of Health and Germany-headquartered Merck Group. The telemedicine initiative will link KNH to the Machakos Level Five Hospital located in the eastern region of Kenya.

“I urge all stakeholders and county governments to invest in telemedicine as a way of bringing specialised services closer to the rural poor.”

James Macharia, Kenya’s Ministry of Health

Frank Haverkamp, the chairman of the executive board of Merck Group, said during its launch this month (5 May): “This initiative aims to build capacity and improve access to innovative and equitable healthcare solutions to Kenyans.”

Haverkamp noted that the initiative is part of Merck’s Capacity Advancement Program started in 2013 to boost research and development, pharmacovigilance, medical education and community awareness in the areas of non-communicable diseases (NCDs). “e-Health will enable healthcare specialists to attend to more patients in rural Kenya,” Haverkamp said. 

The Merck chairman added that telemedicine will improve access to medical education, training and research, using information and communication technologies (ICTs) and enhance the provision of better healthcare. “Medical examinations for patients on a separate screen and getting additional support from off-site experts could result in earlier diagnosis and quicker care, especially for NCDs such as cancer and diabetes,” he explained.

James Macharia, Kenya’s cabinet secretary for health, said that his country’s government recognises the value of ICTs in enhancing efficiency in the delivery of quality healthcare services, noting that telemedicine helps in diagnoses, treatments and prevention of diseases.

The cabinet secretary added that the initiative will strengthen electronic documentation of patient data to aid their access and promotion of knowledge and skills transfer.

Macharia said that Merck has invested 100,000 euros (about US$112,000) for the initial phase, noting that the next phase will involve expansion to other hospitals such as the Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital in Eldoret city in the Rift Valley region to provide e-consultation services. “I urge all stakeholders and county governments to invest in telemedicine as a way of bringing specialised services closer to the rural poor,” Macharia concluded.

Lily Tare, KNH chief executive officer, told SciDev.Net that the use of satellite systems in education must be fully exploited to speed up telemedicine in Kenya and the rest of Sub-Saharan Africa. “We need to focus on the quality of health, and telemedicine offers efficiency in the healthcare system,” Tare said.

Japheth Mutinda, a resident of Machakos County in eastern Kenya, says the initiative will help address the challenge of lack of health human resource capacity in the area. “It is always prudent to consult especially on matters of health as it involves human life.Telemedicine will enable this to happen,” Mutinda notes.
This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's Sub-Saharan Africa desk