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Adopt digital health to speed up EAC dream

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By SAM WAMBUGU
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The six East African Community (EAC) countries: Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda, have been fomenting a process geared towards increasing economic integration.

Integration is billed to spur unhindered mobility of labour, goods, and services.

But this aspiration is stymied by more than a few challenges, one of them being inaccessibility to health services when people move between countries.

Currently, the public health system is bogged down by a myriad of challenges common to low- and middle-income countries.

For example, because health facilities are not electronically interlinked, it is difficult and, in some cases, impossible to uniquely identify patients and their treatment history when they move from one health facility to another.

As health is a very sensitive service, accurate identification of patients and their treatment history is the sine qua non of good patient management.

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When patients on long-term treatment migrate from their home in pursuit of work or other reasons, many fall out of the health system.

At their new location, some are taken in as new patients because their treatment history can’t be accessed at the new clinic.

This can result in a host of medical complications and unnecessary costs to the patient.

Without first overcoming individual country health problems like these, the goal of providing quality health services to people in the EAC region will remain a pipe dream.

Part of the solution is to automate and interlink health facilities such that they can exchange patient information, akin to the way the banks work.

Regardless of where your bank account is domiciled, you can access your money from any of the bank’s branches in the country, and for some, out of the country.

Likewise, authorised health providers should be able to access a patient’s information in any health facility in the country and in selected health facilities in the collaborating countries.

This move will stem the tide of resistance to drugs and promote telemedicine — that is — enabling medical specialists in different countries to electronically provide consultation and treatment to patients in other countries.

This effort requires immense investment in strong leadership to organise and galvanise the needed human resource capacity and technology.

Medical terms and procedures, as well as medicines, need to conform to specified standards so that they are clear to health practitioners across the region.

Also, the ministries of health and ICT need to draft the necessary data sharing laws to ensure that shared patient information is handled within the confines of ethics and the law.

In these efforts, the private sector has a big skin in the game, not just because it has a wealth of experience on using technology, but because private health providers are a big piece of the health sector pie.

Fortunately, there is agreement among EAC member countries that technology is a key coefficient in solving this complex health calculus.





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