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 Ultra-precise chip-scale sensor detects unprecedentedly small changes at the nanoscale
18.01.2017 | The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

nachricht Data analysis optimizes cyber-physical systems in telecommunications and building automation
18.01.2017 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Algorithmen und Wissenschaftliches Rechnen SCAI

All articles from Information Technology >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Traffic jam in empty space

New success for Konstanz physicists in studying the quantum vacuum

An important step towards a completely new experimental access to quantum physics has been made at University of Konstanz. The team of scientists headed by...

Im Focus: How gut bacteria can make us ill

HZI researchers decipher infection mechanisms of Yersinia and immune responses of the host

Yersiniae cause severe intestinal infections. Studies using Yersinia pseudotuberculosis as a model organism aim to elucidate the infection mechanisms of these...

Im Focus: Interfacial Superconductivity: Magnetic and superconducting order revealed simultaneously

Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.

While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...

Im Focus: Studying fundamental particles in materials

Laser-driving of semimetals allows creating novel quasiparticle states within condensed matter systems and switching between different states on ultrafast time scales

Studying properties of fundamental particles in condensed matter systems is a promising approach to quantum field theory. Quasiparticles offer the opportunity...

Im Focus: Designing Architecture with Solar Building Envelopes

Among the general public, solar thermal energy is currently associated with dark blue, rectangular collectors on building roofs. Technologies are needed for aesthetically high quality architecture which offer the architect more room for manoeuvre when it comes to low- and plus-energy buildings. With the “ArKol” project, researchers at Fraunhofer ISE together with partners are currently developing two façade collectors for solar thermal energy generation, which permit a high degree of design flexibility: a strip collector for opaque façade sections and a solar thermal blind for transparent sections. The current state of the two developments will be presented at the BAU 2017 trade fair.

As part of the “ArKol – development of architecturally highly integrated façade collectors with heat pipes” project, Fraunhofer ISE together with its partners...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Sustainable Water use in Agriculture in Eastern Europe and Central Asia

19.01.2017 | Event News

12V, 48V, high-voltage – trends in E/E automotive architecture

10.01.2017 | Event News

2nd Conference on Non-Textual Information on 10 and 11 May 2017 in Hannover

09.01.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Helmholtz International Fellow Award for Sarah Amalia Teichmann

20.01.2017 | Awards Funding

An innovative high-performance material: biofibers made from green lacewing silk

20.01.2017 | Materials Sciences

Ion treatments for cardiac arrhythmia — Non-invasive alternative to catheter-based surgery

20.01.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>