Capturing the ICT Dividend: AfDB Supports the Rise of e-Health in Africa

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Spurred by technological innovations, a revolution in ehealth is taking place in Africa. A large part of this revolution is due to the phenomenal growth in mobile phone usage in Africa – at 281 million users it is now the biggest market in the world. Internet use is still comparatively low, but is set to grow fast. With advanced access to information and services, the continent’s achievements in ehealth are likely to be dwarfed by a connected Africa.

The growth of ehealth in Africa is cultivating the power of voice, accountability and good governance in the African health sector. In Northern Ghana, the Mobile Midwife Project has been providing women with health information during their pregnancy and encouraging women to seek antenatal care via text or voice messages. The ease of access to this vital information allows women to take control of their own health. The AfDB has an ongoing project with the health Ministry of Ghana to strengthen its health system, with a focus on National Blood Transfusion Services.

eHealth has become an integral part of the health sector in Africa. Kenya, the birth place of the revolutionary mobile phone banking system Mpesa, became the first country to develop a national ehealth strategy in 2011. The country spelled out its plans at the high-level conference on Value for Money, Sustainability and Accountability in the health sector, organized by the African Development Bank (AfDB) and other Harmonization for Health in Africa (HHA) partners , in Tunis, July 4-5, 2012.

Vice Chair of the Creative Task Force of the Ministry of Health of Kenya, Michael Onyango, presented the areas earmarked for ehealth services: Patient Centric Information, Pharmacy and Medical Supply Chain Information Management, Financial Information, including Insurance and Payments, Health Workforce Management and Training Regulation.

The conference gathered Ministers of Finance and Health and/or their representatives from 54 African countries, African parliamentarians as well as over 400 participants from the public and private sectors, academia, civil society and media globally. His Excellency Hamadi Jebali, Prime Minister of Tunisia, Dr. Donald Kaberuka, President of the African Development Bank, and Dr. Margaret Chan, Executive Director of the World Health Organisation delivered the opening remarks.

Distinguished guests such as Dr. Michel Sidibe, Executive Director of UNAIDS, Dr. Babatunde Osotimehim, Executive Director for UNFPA, Mr. Gabriel Jaramillo, General Manager of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and Mr. Seth Berkeley, CEO of the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations (GAVI) delivered keynote speeches.

High-profile speakers like Julio Frenk, Dean of the School of Public Health, Harvard University and Hans Rosling, Chairman of Gapminder Foundation also delivered keynote speeches during the conference.

This conference emphasized the urgent need for greater domestic accountability, reduced dependence on foreign aid and value for money in the delivery of health services in Africa. It gathered the expertise from all over Africa as well as globally featuring speakers from India, China, Brazil, Vietnam and Kyrgyzstan.This high level dialogue culminated in a Tunis Declaration endorsing, among other things, the increased use of ICT in the delivery of health services in Africa.

The African Development Bank is positioning itself as a leading champion of ehealth. The excitement generated by the growth and dynamism in Africa has fostered a lot of new projects in ehealth and mhealth initiated by individuals, NGOs and institutions who recognize their potential. However they have largely remained small in scale and there is a lack of evidence-based knowledge on effectiveness, sustainability and best practices. On May 19 2012, the AfDB launched an eHealth award, recognizing the best authentic African ICT solutions in health. The goal of the award is to champion existing innovations by documenting what is being done in the field of e-health and m-health in Africa. The award encourages the production and sharing of evidence on eHealth solutions and provides added value through the sharing of lessons learnt.

As Africa captures the dividend provided by the revolutions in ehealth, the AfDB will continue to support and cultivate effective initiatives in ICT solutions for health.