NigeriaCom: Policy Implementation, Access Will Boost mHeath

0

Emma Okonji

Stakeholders at the NigeriaCom conference, which opened on Tuesday in Lagos, have identified two key areas that would help the federal government achieve the mobile health (mHealth) initiative, which intends to provide mobile healthcare services to Nigerians in urban and rural communities, using technology.

According to stakeholders, Nigeria has good medical personnel, but lacks good medical facilities and the mHealth initiative would assist patients to have access to medical experts in developed economies of the world, where there are better and sophisticated health care facilities.

Concerned about the benefits of the mobile healthcare initiative, panelists who discussed the topic ‘Understanding The Value-chain of Connectivity for Improving Healthier Lives and Societies in Nigeria,’ at the opening session of NigeriaCom conference, identified lack of policy implementation, and ubiquitous broadband availability as the reasons for the slow take-off of the mHealth project in Nigeria.

The federal government had in 2013, entered into agreement with Vecna Cares, to provide mobile health services across Nigeria, but the implementation process has been very slow, thus affecting the desired results since 2013.

Since the mHealthcare agreement was signed in 2013, only 5 states and the federal capital territory, Abuja, have keyed into the initiative, with about 400 mobile healthcare personnels scattered around the states, which include Lagos, Edo, Ondo, Kano, and Anambra, and majority of Nigerians are yet to feel the impact of the initiative, which had been described as laudable, if well implemented.

The forum said there was need for government to come up with policy implementation plan that would expedite the whole processes, aside the need for ubiquitous broadband penetration that would enhance connectivity, especially in the rural areas of the country.
One of the panelists, Assistant Director, ICT, Federal Ministry of Health, Dr. Adeleke Balogun, said government was still making efforts to put in place, eHealth policy that will drive the initiative.

“The Federal Ministry of Health is trying to coordinate all stakeholders at state level, including private sector to key into the initiative, with a view to creating an eHealth policy that will drive mHealth in the country. The policy will soon be released, because there is eHealth structure on ground and we have the Ministers of Health and Communications as Chairman and co-Chairman of a steering committee, working for the release of the policy. Other members include CEOs of health agencies and Information and Communications Technology (ICT) agencies,” Balogun said.

Primary Grantee, Qualcomm Wireless Reach in Nigeria, Deborah Theobald, said her team, which is driving the mHealth initiative in Nigeria, was at NigeriaCom to talk about the technology that will drive mHealth in Nigeria.

Speaking about the technology, Theobald said: “The technology we are using is specifically tablet devices in the hands of the frontline healthcare officers, who collect data of patients and send them directly to the local networks configured in a box, before the data is transmitted to the server in the cloud, where medical experts from different parts of the world could have access to the data and offer on-the-spot medical advice to the patient.”

We create applications that can document data of patients and make the data accessible to medical experts in developed countries of the world, and we are making efforts to make the applications and the technology accessible to rural communities, Theobald added.

Describing how the solution works, Theobald said the solution runs on a tablet device, which the frontline healthcare officers handles to collect data of patience, and in turn, transmit the data through the connected SIM card in the tablet, to a local network, before the data is transmitted to the server located in the cloud, from where medical practitioners would have access to the data for diagnosis and medical advice.

She said 120 sites are already up and running, with plans to expand to 150 sites by the end of the year, and between 1500 and 2000 sites by the end of next year.