The inaugural workshop of the BETTEReHEALTH East and Central Africa Regional eHealth Hub was organized on August 26-27, 2021 by BETTEReHEALTH partners Jimma University and University of Gondar and attended by participants from Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Uganda, Democratic Republic Congo, Cameroon and Norway.
In his opening speech, Dr. Biniam Tilahun, Vice President of the University of Gondar (UoG), Director of eHealth Lab Ethiopia, and member of the BETTEReHEALTH Project Consortium, presented the Capacity Building and Mentorship Program (CBMP) in which UoG is involved and which is being implemented in selected districts of the Amhara and Beninshangul Gumuz regions of Ethiopia in collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Health, where they created five model districts that will serve as a learning site for the country, and potentially for other countries as well. The UOG has also been working with CDC Africa that operates in 55 African member state countries in realizing digital health in the health system of all member countries.
Naod Wonderad, Policy Plan and Monitoring Director, Federal Ministry of Health (FMoH), Ethiopia, added that the workshop was critical for Ethiopia to learn from the experiences of other countries in implementing eHealth solutions and identify areas where countries can collaborate to improve the use of digital solutions in the health system. His colleague, Mr. Gemeches, Health Information Technology Director at the FMoH noted that the country has fragmented eHealth systems that were not sufficient enough to support the information systems at all levels. Therefore, identifying the area of support in line with the eHealth solutions and architecture are the primary focus of the Ministry through the workshop.
After an overview of some of the BETTEReHEALTH activities related to the registries for eHealth solutions and policies, human factors and stakeholder analysis, and eHealth standards and interoperability, an overview of ongoing digital health initiatives in Ethiopia was provided. Ethiopia has made tremendous efforts to improve use of digital health solutions in the country’s health system. The ministry developed the governance framework that will help to achieve the overarching vision of healthcare: value creation (benefit realization, effective resource utilization & risk reduction) helps to harness the transformational power of digital health.
The ministry is keen to work together with partner projects like BETTEReHEALTH to get access to experiences and good practice.
eHealth policy challenges an ongoing eHealth initiatives in Tanzania were also presented. Tanzania has Fragmented ICT pilots and numerous HIS silos, inadequate sharing/exchange of information across the sector, fragmented and uncoordinated business processes, no common investment framework, low emphasis on governance and partner coordination. Therefore, there is a need for a holistic approach to be undertaken.
A situation analysis of eHealth in Cameroon pointed out that, in accordance with the WHO resolution, the Ministry of Public Health of Cameroon and its development partners started the drafting process of the National eHealth Strategic Plan in June 2018. The actual drafting phase, which began in July 2019 under the auspices of the Health Information Unit and the IT Unit in collaboration with I-TECH/ University of Washington in synergy with Johns Hopkins Cameroon Program (JHCP) and CDC-PEPFAR was preceded by a situation analysis carried out in 2018. Internet access and funding were identified as some of the main challenges and barriers.
A discussion on the strategy and future direction for scalability of eHealth solutions in LLMICs of Africa, concluded that intergovernmental collaboration is highly important. In order to have a strong intergovernmental collaboration, countries should develop policy/strategy, create a strong stakeholder coordination and involvement, gather experience on eHealth before a wider scale up, and create a platform for sharing of expertise and experience. Besides, scalability should be taken into consideration from the beginning and identify solutions that work and based on open standards.
The workshop participants agreed that leveraging ICT will definitely improve the quality of care in African countries. eHealth can help to increase access to health, quality of care, and health coverage. Countries’ experiences and good practice are highly important to improve the implementation of eHealth applications in resource-limited areas.
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