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Capturing the ICT dividend: the rise of e-health

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Spurred by technological innovation, a rapid information and communication revolution is taking place in Africa, especially in mobile technology, cloud computing, biotechnology and e-governance. From 2008 to 2010, most countries in Africa doubled or tripled their international bandwidth capacity and some have even seen a 10-fold increase. Nowadays, one in every two Africans owns a mobile phone.

Investments in skills and technology are at the center of the African Development Bank's development agenda and stand for one of the five operational priorities of the Bank’s 2013-2022 Strategy.

New technologies have a transformative power on governance and service delivery. The technological revolution in Africa can be harnessed to improve service delivery in education and health and accelerate inclusive growth and job creation.

Promising approaches to tackling the many challenges facing Africa’s health systems are e-health, which applies information and communication technology (ICT) in the health sector, and the closely related m-health, which includes medical and public health practices supported by mobile devices. But these twin approaches remain at a small scale in Africa, due to a lack of evidence-based knowledge on effectiveness, sustainability, and best practices.

In 2012, the African Development Bank launched an e-health award which is a competition for innovative and sustainable information and communication technology initiatives for Africa’s health sectors. The award champions existing innovations and encourages producing and sharing evidence on e-health solutions.

Winning projects, which were celebrated during the Africa Pharmaceutical Summit in Hammamet, Tunisia, on September 23-24, 2013, are being implemented by public and private institutions from Ghana, Cameroon, Uganda, Kenya, The Gambia and Sierra Leone as well as at the multinational scale.

e-health innovations show that e- and m-health can improve access to health information by providing systematically reliable and accurate data at all levels to facilitate decision-making processes. These innovations can also empower the health workforce and reduce the human resources for health shortage in Africa by providing training to health staff, thus increasing the number of trained personnel and improving the quality of training of existing staff at a limited cost. Innovations can also be used to convey health education to the public for improved public health. Finally, they can contribute to more accessible and better health services as they can remove existing bottlenecks in the delivery of health services.

As Africa captures the dividend provided by the revolution in e-health, the Bank will continue to support and cultivate effective initiatives in ICT solutions for health by:

  • Promoting the use of ICT in all its operations;
  • Promoting a new model of ICT-based hospitals to improve management and service delivery;
  • Supporting its regional member countries in developing and implementing e-health policies, strengthening regulatory mechanisms and focusing on returns on investments;
  • Encouraging knowledge production on e-health to the benefit of its Regional Member Countries;
  • Developing public-private partnerships with African governments and private sector ICT providers to pilot and scale up innovations in Africa.

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