Role of eHealth in Tanzania healthcare development
eHealth: Health without use of technology is becoming obsolete. In our daily struggles towards reviving and improving the quality of healthcare services, the component of Information Technology should not be left behind.
The application of ICT in healthcare delivery is one of the key components in healthcare delivery package. Worldwide, a significant number of healthcare systems continue to adopt eHealth and this evidenced by widespread adoption of information communication technology policies and significant number of eHealth pilot projects.
Actually, the application of information and communications technologies (ICTs) to health, and a means of improving health services access, efficiency and quality comprises is what we call eHealth. In fact, eHealth includes the use of mobile phones to serve health purposes, so called m-health; telemedicine, electronic medical records and so forth.
As it has been highlighted earlier, E-Health use is growing rapidly all over the world. Africa is also is rapidly adopting eHealth into the healthcare systems. It is estimated that over 1.5 billion people in Africa and Asia are using eHealth.
In our country, several eHealth projects have been launched and are in use already. Many others are still on the pilot scale, waiting to be extended nationwide.We have district health information system already in place. Medical Store Department (MSD) recently launched electronic logistics management information system (eLMIS). Through this platforms, drugs and other medical supplies are being ordered online.
M-health is one of the emerging components of eHealth in our country. A significant number of Tanzanians have access to mobile phones and if this platform is utilized to the fullest, it has a potential of benefiting a lot of people.
Notable examples of m-health in Tanzania include the use of mobile text messages to disseminate health information. We have already projects like 'Wazazi nipendeni' specific for family planning. They have also been others for malaria, diabetes, cancers and so on.
Mobile Apps that are specifically designed for health purposes have been introduced to the market as well. An App developed for medical records such as registration of new-borns (an App developed by RITA - The Registration Insolvency and Trusteeship Agency) is a good example. The Tanzania Food and Drugs Authority (TFDA) recently launched a mobile App that will be used for reporting adverse drug reactions.
So far, eHealth in Tanzania continues to open up the platform where many of healthcare challenges can be solved. Establishment of eHealth strategy by Tanzanian government is one the important accomplishment the government has ever done. Having a national E-Health strategy makes the efforts towards strengthening E-Health more focused and well-coordinated.
Tanzania's National eHealth Strategy (2013 -2018) focused on six strategic goals. Their aim is to support the transformation of our healthcare system by leveraging ICT to improve the health and social welfare of all citizens.
Moreover, E-Health has proven to be helpful in improving healthcare delivery. It has also helped the government in proper coordination of its healthcare interventions, thus fostering quality healthcare. Individual healthcare institutions have used eHealth to improve service delivery and coordination which ultimately increase income. Private health facilities have used eHealth to gain competitive advantage.
So far, adoption of E-Health into the contemporary healthcare systems still faces a lot of setbacks that need to be worked on so that the goals and objectives are attained. Among these challenges is that eHealth requires capital investment. It is unfortunate that our resources are limited. The health sector is always under budgeted. The capital is needed to purchase IT infrastructures, training, supervision and monitoring, repairs and updating of the systems.
As long as there is no enough capital investment, some of our important goals will never be achieved. For example, a significant number of eHealth projects that have been initiated have been left pending only because there were shortages of funds.
There are also poor existing infrastructures to support E-Health growth. Running eHealth projects requires the availability of stable power sources. Power sources issues in the country have remained unsolved, thus making it hard for eHealth implementation. Imagine the introduction of let's say electronic medical records to places where no electricity supply. The effectiveness will obviously be poor.
Challenges like resistance from healthcare providers, lack of IT knowledge to most of healthcare workers, lack of political will are issues that are progressively hampering eHealth initiatives. We cannot expect quality healthcare services if we don't invest in technology to healthcare systems. We must prioritize eHealth projects and initiatives in the national budget. We must also invest in building the foundation of ICT knowledge in our education system.
This can be achieved by starting an ICT exposition from primary education and making ICT courses mandatory to every healthcare college. If effectively utilized, E-Health could solve a lot of existing healthcare challenges, leading to stable and quality healthcare delivery.