• Strategy
  • Acfee’s Advancing eHealth 2016 report is out

    The African Centre for eHealth Excellence (Acfee) has released its Advancing eHealth 2016 report. The report findings are that eHealth initiatives are expanding in African countries, though their impact on health systems strengthening and transformation, and ultimately their contribution to healthy Africans, is less certain.

    The African eHealth Forum is where Acfee’s management team consults with its Advisory Board, industry partners and other stakeholders, to exchange their experiences of eHealth in Africa to find ways to support eHealth to strengthen healthcare and make Africans healthier. The second annual forum was in Sandton, South Africa on 8 and 9 September 2016. It followed the successful eHealthALIVE event.

    During AeF, Acfee's Advisory Board identified five eHealth priorities. They are:

    eHealth strategyeHealth governanceeHealth regulationeHealth cyber-securityeHealth impact.

    The AeF believes that developing these will help eHealth to advance. They are discussed and elaborated on in the report and Acfee will be investing in moving each one forward.

    eHealth in Africa still has a long way to go. The AeF report sets out some of Acfee’s contributions to moving it on. eHNA’ll be reporting on its progress.

    The AeF followed the first annual eHealthALIVE Southern Africa conference, a broad stakeholder engagement platform for exploring eHealth's opportunities in the region. Read it's report here.

  • FSDoH’s eHealth implementation plan’s on the way

    While South Africa has a national eHealth strategy, provinces have different starting points. At this year’s eHealthALIVE conference, Ms Thato Lekhu set out the Free State’s eHealth status for its five municipalities.

    The Free State Department of Health (FSDoH) provides a diverse and interwoven healthcare programmes at different stages of maturity. These service areas start from basic healthcare, such as outreach teams, to specialised disciplines. Using eHealth to support these services should align with the complexities of each them is a core part of FSDoH’s eHealth strategy. A parallel goal’s to ensure that eHealth’s enabled with the bigger health and healthcare picture.

    High speed connectivity is seen as linking the front and back ends. Front end content includes:

    Care-based surveillance with patient-level data in EMRsInformation, Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E)Management dashboards and routine data for policy and decision makersGraphical User Interfaces (GUI)Access securityUser-defined queriesManagement reports.

    The back end includes:

    Web-based application architectureContent management systemsCentral database, Structured Query Language (SQL)Cloud computingData warehouse infrastructureAutomated backupData capture.

    The main systems for patient information and research include:

    District Health Information System 2 (DHISs) databaseETR.netTier.NETPatient admission and billing (PADS)MEDITECHPharmacy and other database systemsMosiac for oncologyOccupational Health and Safety Information System (OHASIS)Picture Archiving and Communication System (PACS).

    Current initiatives to enable the FSDoH eHealth strategy include:

    Connecting clinics using:vSatMicrowavesDistribution of 3GsSome clinics have data initiatives with a minimum of 128kTertiary, central and regional hospitals range from 512k to 2Mb.

    Ms Lekhu’s clear that all these initiatives aren’t enough to run all systems simultaneously. More investment’s needed to deal with practicalities such as:

    Scheduled backups and patches or updates to run at nightData being depleted before month ends, hampering servicesDelayed email deliveries, followed by  telephone call confirmationsConnectivity strategies need expanding to roll out the Integrated Patient Information System (IPIS)An improved integration platform for information systemsMore people with ICT skills and programmersNeed for a single patient information systemProjects to implement the National eHealth and mHealth StrategyMore capacity to import patient data, information and clinical notes into new databasesInadequate fundingEnhanced in house skills of employees, including data capturers and healthcare practitioners.

    These are not exceptional just for FSDoH. Many health systems in many countries face equivalent challenges. The critical feature is dealing with them at pace that’s sustainable and successful. Ms Lekhu as three main recommendations to achieve them:

    A national driven eHealth implementation plan to guide provinces on when, where and how to investA costed and funded business plan and conditional grant for implementing eHealth nationallyImproved computer literacy for coalface officials.

    These will benefit the whole of South Africa’s health system. They also have a resonance with other countries’ eHealth strategies. Implementing eHealth strategies looks set to be a recurring eHealthALIVE theme.

  • Senegal’s recorded its eHealth strategy process for lessons learned

    Completing a realistic eHealth strategy’s not an easy task. Senegal’s done it and published how it’s done it through the Knowledge for Health (K4Health) IntraHealth International project. The Senegal team identified nine lessons learned:

    Allocate sufficient time to develop a credible scientific document and anticipate the financial resources neededStart with a baseline evaluation or a situational analysis that includes reviews of existing eHealth projects and playersApply a consultative, participatory approach where key players with diverse expertise are brought together for brainstormingRefer to countries that have an operational strategic plan and learn from their model while taking socio-economic factors into accountAssess infrastructureEnsure that your country has appropriate legal norms in placeEstablish a realistic activity calendarSeek high level support for the strategyRefer to the WHO/ITU toolkit for guidance and tools.

    These are drawn from a Senegal setting of many eHealth initiatives intended to strengthen its health system. Needing to strengthening coordination and collaboration among all health system stakeholders, including ministries, partners, donors and the private sector, the Ministry of Health and Social Action (MOHSA) started working on national eHealth strategy in 2014. Early in 2015, with support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the WHO, and the K4Health Project, MOHSA coordinated its eHealth Strategic Plan.

    The process was:

    Form a temporary technical committee with representatives from government and key implementing partners and donors to co-ordinate the process through regular meetingsA desktop review of other countries eHealth strategies and processes used to develop themA situational analysis from interviews with government bodies, partners, and the private sectorInclusive and participatory working with stakeholdersCreate a dynamic national eHealth registry to record and update eHealth initiatives to support government’s decision making and unveil new business opportunities for the private sectorSet critical success factors for developing Senegal’s eHealth strategy, including strong governmental engagement and support, commitment of partners for collective action, good financial backing, and strong leadership from the Office of the Director General for Health.

    While the process was inclusive and participatory, the scope of participation was limited to government and some implementing partners. This made the process more manageable. WHO provided technical assistance.

    Senegal’s recommendations to ensure the eHealth Strategic Plan is useful include:

    Establish an institutional framework to organise and coordinate all eHealth interventions.Establish a strong national steering committee that stimulates action and integrates M&EEnsure a multi-sectoral approach, with all services and directions in MOHSA engaged in implementation and M&EIntegrate eHealth throughout the hierarchical structure of the health system, a health pyramid, and consider decentralising to a focal person supervising eHealth systems at national, regional, and district levels

    Other recommendations deal with:

    Finance and human resourcesDisseminationM&ESuccessful strategy implementationMonitoring implementationApproaches by other countries planning an eHealth strategy.

    Senegal’s strategy was completed in August 2015, six months after stakeholder engagement began in February 2015. It’d now be valuable if K4Health sponsored a commentary on progress on implementation and M&E, two activities many countries in and beyond Africa find challenging.

  • South Africa’s mHealth strategies expanding

    While many mHealth initiatives are local and spawned by enthusiasts, it’s essential that they have a strategic context. At this year’s eHealthALIVE conference, Peter Barron, mHealth Advisor to South Africa’s National Ministry of Health set this out for South Africa’s national health system. Five examples are:

    MomConnect, to promote the health of mothers and childrenNurseConnect, to support nurses’ knowledge and practicesmHealth apps for cliniciansMedicine adherence for patientsStock control for clinics to minimise stock-outs.

    MomConnect’s a two-way communication service. It sends regular, relevant information in the form of SMSs to pregnant women to help them take more responsibility for their and their babies’ health. Mothers can also provide feedback on services they’ve received that’s used to improve healthcare quality, so strengthen the health system. Feedback’s structured as:

    A service rating system for antenatal clinic visitsA compliments systemA complaints system for issues such as long waiting times, health workers’ inappropriate behaviour and drug and dietary supplement stock-outs.

    NurseConnect was piloted between January and March. Scale up started in May. It aims to support and empower nurses and midwives by:

    Allowing them to use their cell phones free of charge to receive relevant information to help them improve their performance in maternal and child healthEnabling them to provide feedback and seek advice about their work and work environmentEnabling them to set up learning and support networks.In four months, some 8,000 nurses have registered to use NurseConnect. The number of users’s expected to increase steadily.

    mHealth apps include:

    Primary Healthcare (PHC) guidelines, including TBHelp clinicians treat patients correctly, safely and in compliance with best evidence availableAlgorithms to help clinicians who plug in variables.

    Medication adherence for patients:

    Allows patients to input their medication detailsProvides daily alarms as reminders to take medicinesKeeps an overview of missed medication with green and red daysProduces graphs of adherenceCan link to a central database so that overall adherence is monitored remotely and provides information about overall compliance rates to direct compliance initiatives.

    Stock control at clinics is built on an mHealth app that minimises stock outs by:

    Allowing central monitoring of essential drugs at clinicsProviding an early warning system of potential drug shortagesEnabling drug stock transfers to ensure equitable distributionsA learning experience about stock management for clinic staff.

    From this achievement, Peter Barron has considerable ambitions for the future. He sees progress so far as “Scratching the surface.” He sees big opportunities as people engage more with their mobile devices and spend more time interacting with them than they do with their partners. This opportunity’s enhanced by the younger generation who will always be much more techno sophisticated than their elders. As smart phones become the norm, and data and connectivity becomes cheaper and more readily available, Peter Barron’s personal ambition’s to be a fly on the wall in five years-time. Many of us would like to be on the same wall.

  • HISP’s a strategic partner for eHealth strengthening in Africa

    There’s a lot of eHealth innovation underway in African countries to transform our experience of healthcare and how we stay healthy. In my home country, South Africa, the Health Information Systems Programme of South Africa (HISP-SA) makes an important contribution, extending from its DHIS health data platform, now in use in 46 countries, to projects stretching from building mHealth apps, to training and support to help public health and facility managers take sound decisions.

    It’s a foundation for expanding eHealth’s health strengthening role for the future, which is a strategic goal for HISP-SA and HISP entities around the world. There’s regular collaboration between country teams to move this vision forward, with significant support from HISP-SA.

    HISP-SA meets a growing demand for eHealth expertise and services. In the last five years it’s expanded from a team of twelve people to now over one hundred. They cover a range of skills across public health, informatics, data management and computer science.

    I’ve been asked to help lead HISP’s ICT strategy and its implementation. It’s a Chief Technology Officer role with a team of analysts, software developers, data specialists and ICT infrastructure experts. Everyone in HISP-SA’s dynamic and experienced team has a valuable contribution to make to the way ahead and to guiding HISP-SA to grasp the numerous eHealth opportunities across Africa and deal with their challenges.

    I now work alongside well-known eHealth and public health personalities, such as Vincent Shaw, Gugulethu Ngubane, Calle Hedberg, Phumzile Zondo, Mohammed Jeena and Christa van den Bergh. An essential activity’s engaging closely with former colleagues and government eHealth leaders, including recently appointed National Director of Health Information Systems, eHealth stalwart Mr Mbulelo Cabuko, his colleague Julius Nkgapele, their Chief Director Ms Thulile Zondi and their teams.

    Our relationship with provincial and district health is important too, to boost using information to improve health experiences at the point of care, for patients and health workers, and with key population groups.

    HISP-SA’s priority is to support South Africa government’s health information systems. They exist to secure and support how South Africa delivers better health for all. It’s an honour to be part of this endeavor. I look forward to what we will accomplish during our time together.

  • Rwanda and South Korea collaborate on eHealth

    It’s another eHealth step for Rwanda. An article in the New Times says Rwanda’s Ministry of Health has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Republic of South Korea. The aim’s to improve technology in healthcare, including telemedicine, Hospital Information Systems (HIS) and ICT-based medical services. The MoU enables collaboration on eHealth between Korea Telecom (KT), Yonsei University Health System, including Severance Hospital, and University Teaching Hospital of Kigali (CHUK).

    At a media briefing, Kwon Deok-cheol, the visiting Korean Deputy Minister for Health and Welfare, said eHealth’s now an effective tool for sharing information needed for healthcare and controlling Non-Communicable Diseases (NCD). “eHealth would be very crucial in providing information, especially now that Rwanda has potential to expand modern health services across the country. Through working together, information between the two countries will be shared.”

    Rwanda’s Health Minister, Dr Agnes Binagwaho, said technology will be distributed across all levels of the health sector so everyone benefits. Her vision’s to “Use technology right from the rural areas to the national level that is how we can manage e-Health. Although we still have a long way to go in terms of improved management, access to information, advice from health personnel and distance towards health care facilities, this arrangement is one of the opportunities for us to improve.”

    As eHealth expands, it becomes more complex and challenging. Collaboration is an increasingly constructive approach. Rwanda’s collaborative strategy offers a model for all African countries.

  • Fresh eHealth strategies provide big opportunities

    African countries are producing National eHealth Strategies. In the last two years, announcements have come from Burundi, Mauritius and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Countries with strategies already in place include Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and others, with more underway. Some have taken a step further and developed complementary strategies, such as South Africa's 2015 mHealth Strategy. You can follow the hyperlinks above to find a PDF of each document on the Resources tab of eHNA’s country pages.

    Having a strategy’s a big step forward. It fulfils resolutions made by ministers of health at the sixty-sixth World Health Assembly in 2013. It shows that the countries see a valuable role for eHealth in their health systems strengthening and mapping out a way forward to realise eHealth’s benefits.

    A good strategy goes further, recognising that health systems need more than strengthening to provide the health and care that citizens need. Despite limited resources, health systems need to transform by finding innovative ways to reverse trends of a rapidly rising curative burden and big, continuing population growth, perhaps as much as 3% a year.

    At Acfee’s African eHealth Forum (AeF) in July 2015, senior eHealth leaders from several countries identified more than 60 long-standing eHealth challenges that need fixing before eHealth can make a big impact. The list, described in Advancing eHealth in Africa, was longer, and more demanding than most people expected. These need addressing as part of an annual investment programme that initially stops the challenges expanding, and achieves a steady shrinking of their constraining impact.

    Expanded eHealth leadership, and eHealth capacity for skills and knowledge in the health workforce are important and continuing challenges. These we identified in 2009 by the Commonwealth Secretariat in its support programme for eHealth strategies. In a series of workshops, African countries working on their eHealth strategies showed that they needed to develop and achieve new organisational contexts to pursue their eHealth goals effectively. Without them, the important eHealth technicalities such as interoperability, architecture, standard and connectivity would not realise their benefits fully. There is still much more to do.

    Over the last few years, Acfee’s been helping Africa’s health systems to construct their organisational contexts. The AeF report confirmed that enhanced eHealth leadership and workforce capacity are essential. Their components extend across activities that include:

    Engagement with health professionals Realising benefits for healthy Africans and better healthcare Transforming healthcare delivery and health systems Sustainable health strategies Rigorous business cases for eHealth investment decisions that implement strategies Effective procurement Sustainable financing models eHealth regulation Responding to growing challenges, such as cyber-threats Responding to new eHealth opportunities and priorities, such as Big Data and surveillance.

    These are not easy to achieve. eHNA has numerous reports of countries that have struggled with many of these, and are still struggling. Putting the health ICT technicalities into the mix makes it even more demanding.

    Where to start and what path to follow are good questions. The first step to success is recognising that it’s a long, slow road with no end. Health workers need new eHealth skills and knowledge that go beyond the health ICT technical skills that health informaticians need as specialists.

    The National eHealth Strategy Toolkit, published by WHO and ITU, provides an overall approach and lots of detail to help countries plan the way forward. 

    Acfee is developing programmes with eight African universities to begin the journey, and will be reviewing these with African health leaders at events such as the African Health Summit and the next African eHealth Forum.


    Image from the Toolkit


  • Emergent strategy offers Africa's eHealth a refresh

    Africa’s health systems must address big challenges for its countries eHealth to catch up. At Acfee’s African eHealth Forum (AeF) in July 2015, senior eHealth leaders from several countries identified more than 60 long-standing eHealth challenges that need fixing before eHealth can make a big impact. The list, described in Advancing eHealth in Africa, was longer, and more demanding than most people expected.

    Since then, WHO’s 2015 eHealth Survey, reported in eHNA, found that out of 33 African countries, only one’s started to deal with Big Data. Other missing initiatives include investment in predictive analytics, both for surveillance and in clinical services, and the Internet of Things (IoT). Do these point to the need for countries to refresh their eHealth strategies and plans?

    Expanded eHealth leadership, and eHealth capacity for skills and knowledge in the health workforce, were important challenges. These we identified in 2009 by the Commonwealth Secretariat in its support programme for eHealth strategies. In a series of workshops, African countries working on their eHealth strategies showed that they needed to develop and achieve new organisational contexts to pursue their eHealth goals effectively. Without them, the important eHealth technicalities such as interoperability, architecture, standard and connectivity would not realise their benefits fully. There still much more to do. 

    eHNA’s reported that five-year eHealth strategies have a timescale that’s too short. eHealth needs a continuous process that stretches well beyond this horizon and allows for regular updates to address emerging issues.

    A first step for African countries to refresh their eHealth strategies is to recognise that it’s a long, slow road with no end. Health workers need new eHealth skills and knowledge that go beyond the health ICT technical skills of health informaticians. Acfee is developing programmes with African universities to deal with part of this journey.

    The expanding range of eHealth opportunities makes eHealth choices and affordability more challenging too. A segmented strategy and a combination of planned, deliberate and agile, emergent initiatives are needed. Henry Mintzberg’s credited with devising emergent strategy concepts. He sets out the deliberate, emergent choices on You Tube.

  • Forget five year eHealth strategies, try 30 years

    It seems that African countries with eHealth strategies look about five years ahead. In the USA, there’s an eHealth programme looking 30 years out. That’s about the length of a generation. 

    Health2047 has a goal to transform US healthcare over the next three decades, so one generation. It’s supported by the American Medical Association (AMA) mHealth is seen as a core component, so the approach may fit Africa’s mHealth ambitions. 

    In an interview with mHealthIntelligence.com, Health2047’s CEO, Dr Doug Given, an internist and infectious diseases doctor and entrepreneur who has founded or run five biotech companies describes his view of the future. He sees three main challenges in mHealth innovation. 

    Solutions being designed and piloted often end up bespoke to a single provider rather than scalable and generally useful with a national impact on healthcare, so instead, it should start from a system-level view to direct design mHealth innovators often don’t take into account regional differences so can’t offer the right market fit, failing to support a variety of use cases, requiring front-end work to understand the required market fit Variable and highly regulated healthcare creates complexity for mHealth innovators in driving meaningful system-level innovations, so mHealth technologists must collaborate closely with people who understand the depth of healthcare and mHealth’s complex dynamic.

    A reluctance by researchers and healthcare providers to trust data from wearables may slow down some of mHealth’s uptake. Bridging the gap between clinical apps and consumer-facing wearables is another challenge. Dr Given sees a solution in more integrated data models, measurable functional outcomes and interfaces that integrate and deliver data meaningfully to doctors, providers and users. These must replace the current point solutions that may be harmful; a dire warning.

    Does Health2047’s approach show that Africa’s health systems need to switch their current mHealth strategies? Instead of adopting a string of mHealth initiatives, should they be setting and applying the standards that will ensure scale up and a bigger impact for this, and the next, generation? It’s a quantum leap with big potential rewards.

  • Transformed health needs more than strengthening

    Health workers in African countries know a lot about facing challenges of all sizes. Sometimes they seem insurmountable. High disease burdens, resource limitations and structural issues can make it hard to move forward. Under these circumstances, it’s not surprising that they often feel ideas about strengthening health systems with eHealth don't do enough.

    African health workers hope for, and many strive for, a fundamental change in how health systems work. The change is about addressing numerous precursors to poor health and disease and shifting the balance of power and responsibility towards citizens before they become patients and every step along the way in partnership with health workers once they are.

    This deals with helping people engage in their personal health choices, supporting their health seeking decisions, influencing them towards constructive choices, nurturing their good habits, and building relationships with trust and power balances that will continue to bear fruit. 

    It’s not a new public health concept, but perhaps here’s a new perspective. This transformation will not be possible without embracing a fundamental, intrinsic role for a wide range of ICT-enabled opportunities, stretching across initiatives such as EHRs, telemedicine and mHealth. This shift, to recognise the role for eHealth’s role or citizens and CHWs, is essential. Next is to realise how hard it is to get right and how much can be done to promote success.

    Acfee’s work with African countries' health systems reveals readiness to engage in this. It’s a long road with lots of challenges, such as over 60 identified at Acfee’s African eHealth Forum (AeF) in July 2015. The list is described in Advancing eHealth in Africa.

    It needs new leaders in African health systems who recognise eHealth’s power to support transformation, acknowledge the challenges and risks, and move forward anyway with smart, step-wise decisions that move their health systems along the road to better health. 

    Acfee’s doing it’s bit to help African countries tackle some of these steps. One is strengthening national eHealth strategies. Alongside we’re matching those strategies with a skills development programme in collaboration with eight African universities. We’re also running leadership development events, like the annual African eHealth Forum for health‘s decision makers and the annual eHealthALIVE conferences, the first if which, for Southern Africa, launches in Johannesburg in September.

    We’re at the African Health Summit this week to discuss these ideas with our partners. Join the conversation live on-site or via our Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn channels. African eHealth is on the move. What part are you playing?