Nation Must Start Using ICT in Health

Nation Must Start Using ICT in Health

By Judd-Leonard Okafor(Daily Trust,Nigeria)

Health minister Onybeuchi Chukwu says Nigeria must begin deploying information and communication technology (ICT) in health delivery but insists it must be driven by "a policy that's coherent, but more importantly implementable.A national conference looking at deploying information and communication technology has opened in Abuja.

Declaring it open, the minister said stakeholders must galvanise "action toward ensuring ICT is employed in the best manner that will help to drive the health sector toward" targets set in the National Health Development Plan.

"Our traditional ways of doing things can no longer be considered sufficient," he said.

Modern tools

Among new technologies in medicine is mobile health, which allows the public get health information on their mobile phones.

But the minister noted there were plans to replace old plastic syringes with automatic ones next year.

He stressed that deploying ICT in health could open up innovative ways to drive down the cost of healthcare, improve education and training programmes, accessibility and reliability of medical records.

It could also make disease control more efficient, Chukwu noted.

The health ministry is coordinating with both the ministries of communications technology as well as science and technology.

Science and technology ministry has already launched a telemedicine project in Lagos, according to the minister, Prof Ita Okon Bassey Ewa, noting that a vibrant IT system could give a health sector "that responds to needs."

Dr Andrew Mbewe of the World Health Organisation said Nigeria needed to institute a national coordinating mechanism for various e-health systems, coordinate investments in e-health and health information systems from donors and partners as well as assess appropriate policies at all levels.

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Communications technology minister Omobola Johnson stressed its mandate to consolidate health information from across sectors into a national data warehouse, like the National Information Technology Centre, whose establishment has been approved.

Learning experience

Nigeria's ICT venture is also being considered an opportunity to simultaneously learn and market services like medical tourism.

It is seeking closer collaboration with India, a country that's gained renowned for attracting thousands of visitors every year on medical tourism.

Medical tourism accounted for 50% of the 23,000 visas issued by India last year, said the office of India's high commissioner to Nigeria.

This year, India has issued 32,000 visas so far and is hoping to hit 35,000.