Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Bringing health care in Africa into the electronic age

22.09.2010
Chris Seebregts says there’s a growing sense of excitement among talented young software programmers in Africa. These days, they are seeing new opportunities to apply their skills in an area of great social impact: health care.

But what’s health care got to do with software design?

Lots, explains Seebregts, a senior manager at the South African Medical Research Council, Executive Director of Jembi Health Systems, and a key player in a cluster of IDRC-funded projects on “e-health” in Africa.

---

More coherent health systems

Recently, there’s been a growing, worldwide realization that greater benefit could be wrung from poor countries’ limited health budgets by “shifting the focus away from isolated projects and toward strengthening health systems in general,” he says, addressing a workshop in Ottawa.

Computer specialists have a key role to play in achieving that. To improve the efficiency of health systems, managers and planners need sophisticated yet easy-to-use software programs allowing them to track both the demands on and the capacities of the health system, so they’ll be able to apply scarce resources where they’ll do the most good.

That’s where the IDRC-funded Open Architectures Standards and Information Systems (OASIS) project enters the picture. Operating in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and Rwanda, OASIS has provided support for African software designers to adapt open-source software to local conditions, to help those countries’ health authorities create and implement effective health policies.

The researchers — based at local universities — have faced several challenges. One is that the software must have maximum “interoperability”—meaning that it allows for communication between different aspects of the national health system and, ideally, across national borders. It must also be simple enough that local clinic staff feel comfortable using it.

---

Successes within challenging environments

Now entering its second phase, OASIS has already met with success.

The Mozambican arm of the project — dubbed M-OASIS — has been working closely with the national ministry of health. Recently M-OASIS entered into a longer-term working relationship to help incorporate e-health software into the ministry’s new five-year plan. In that country, M-OASIS has provided the government with reliable year-to-year statistics on deaths from HIV/AIDS, enabling the ministry to evaluate the effectiveness of its efforts to manage and treat the epidemic.

Another mark of success is that international funding agencies like the Rockefeller Foundation and the US Centre for Disease Control are now funding aspects of OASIS’ four-country program. Originally, IDRC was OASIS’ sole funder.

Comments Seebregts: “IDRC had a real catalytic role in this enterprise. It identified a new area of research, took the risks, and nursed it through the first phase until others saw the value of the work.”

---

How new technologies can help

As Africa embraces new information technologies supported by a rapidly growing robust fibre optic network across the continent, health systems — and the patients who rely on them — stand to benefit in various ways.

Medical records that are as mobile as patients, for example, can help clinic staff arrive at more accurate diagnoses. Meanwhile, electronic databases can help managers move the right drugs and supplies, in the right quantities, to the places they are needed.

Other e-health innovations bring multiple benefits. Cellphone users connected to computer servers can not only receive reminders about medication schedules or information about symptoms. They can also send word of sudden illnesses to authorities, giving officials an early warning that new epidemics may be brewing.

---

Cheaper, better patient care

Seebregts says even simple interventions can lead to enormous reductions in cost and improvements in treatment.

He cites the case of an HIV/AIDS patient whose antiretroviral drug regime appears to have stopped working. Though a clinician would normally opt to move the patient to second-line drug treatment, detailed electronic medical records and the use of laboratory tests and a clinical decision support tool” can indicate when the switch is not truly necessary.

“The moment you move to the second-line drugs, you’ve shortened a patient’s life expectancy by limiting drug options,” explains Seebregts. The second-line drugs are also several times more expensive than the standard treatment.

---

The Canadian connection

The e-health initiative has sparked collaboration across continents. For example, a new “living laboratory “ under construction at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban, South Africa, will use software and models developed by Canada Health Infoway. But the benefits flow in two directions: lessons from the lab in Durban, in turn, will come back across the ocean to help Canada Health Infoway refine e-health models intended for use in Canada.

“We are in the midst of a wonderful process of mutual learning and growth,” comments IDRC program officer Chaitali Sinha.

---

Keeping it local

While international collaboration is important, Seebregts also insists that having the local capacity to keep systems up and running is key to making e-health work in Africa. That’s why he was happy when the team in Mozambique recently declined his offer to help them with a presentation.

“The greatest accolade for us,” he recalls, “was hearing ‘we don’t need you anymore–we’re a completely self-supporting unit.’”

Stephen Dale is an Ottawa-based writer.

Isabelle Bourgeault-Tassé | Research asia research news
Further information:
http://www.idrc.ca/en/ev-158060-201-1-DO_TOPIC.html
http://www.researchsea.com

Further reports about: Africa African elephant HIV/AIDS IDRC M-OASIS Mozambique OASIS Seebregts health services health system

More articles from Information Technology:

nachricht Stable magnetic bit of three atoms
21.09.2017 | Sonderforschungsbereich 668

nachricht Drones can almost see in the dark
20.09.2017 | Universität Zürich

All articles from Information Technology >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Highly precise wiring in the Cerebral Cortex

Our brains house extremely complex neuronal circuits, whose detailed structures are still largely unknown. This is especially true for the so-called cerebral cortex of mammals, where among other things vision, thoughts or spatial orientation are being computed. Here the rules by which nerve cells are connected to each other are only partly understood. A team of scientists around Moritz Helmstaedter at the Frankfiurt Max Planck Institute for Brain Research and Helene Schmidt (Humboldt University in Berlin) have now discovered a surprisingly precise nerve cell connectivity pattern in the part of the cerebral cortex that is responsible for orienting the individual animal or human in space.

The researchers report online in Nature (Schmidt et al., 2017. Axonal synapse sorting in medial entorhinal cortex, DOI: 10.1038/nature24005) that synapses in...

Im Focus: Tiny lasers from a gallery of whispers

New technique promises tunable laser devices

Whispering gallery mode (WGM) resonators are used to make tiny micro-lasers, sensors, switches, routers and other devices. These tiny structures rely on a...

Im Focus: Ultrafast snapshots of relaxing electrons in solids

Using ultrafast flashes of laser and x-ray radiation, scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics (Garching, Germany) took snapshots of the briefest electron motion inside a solid material to date. The electron motion lasted only 750 billionths of the billionth of a second before it fainted, setting a new record of human capability to capture ultrafast processes inside solids!

When x-rays shine onto solid materials or large molecules, an electron is pushed away from its original place near the nucleus of the atom, leaving a hole...

Im Focus: Quantum Sensors Decipher Magnetic Ordering in a New Semiconducting Material

For the first time, physicists have successfully imaged spiral magnetic ordering in a multiferroic material. These materials are considered highly promising candidates for future data storage media. The researchers were able to prove their findings using unique quantum sensors that were developed at Basel University and that can analyze electromagnetic fields on the nanometer scale. The results – obtained by scientists from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics, the Swiss Nanoscience Institute, the University of Montpellier and several laboratories from University Paris-Saclay – were recently published in the journal Nature.

Multiferroics are materials that simultaneously react to electric and magnetic fields. These two properties are rarely found together, and their combined...

Im Focus: Fast, convenient & standardized: New lab innovation for automated tissue engineering & drug

MBM ScienceBridge GmbH successfully negotiated a license agreement between University Medical Center Göttingen (UMG) and the biotech company Tissue Systems Holding GmbH about commercial use of a multi-well tissue plate for automated and reliable tissue engineering & drug testing.

MBM ScienceBridge GmbH successfully negotiated a license agreement between University Medical Center Göttingen (UMG) and the biotech company Tissue Systems...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

“Lasers in Composites Symposium” in Aachen – from Science to Application

19.09.2017 | Event News

I-ESA 2018 – Call for Papers

12.09.2017 | Event News

EMBO at Basel Life, a new conference on current and emerging life science research

06.09.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Comet or asteroid? Hubble discovers that a unique object is a binary

21.09.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Cnidarians remotely control bacteria

21.09.2017 | Life Sciences

Monitoring the heart's mitochondria to predict cardiac arrest?

21.09.2017 | Health and Medicine

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>