In the health sector IICD worked on increasing the effectiveness, efficiency and equity of health systems, particularly for the rural poor living in Sub-Saharan Africa. Health systems are often weak in many of these countries and access to quality healthcare is limited due to poor infrastructure, lack of financial resources, shortages and ill-distribution of medical staff.
Over the years, IICD’s Health programmes have been particularly strong in applying integrated data solutions to improve work flows in hospitals and health centres, making healthcare delivery more efficient, reducing waiting times, allowing more patients to be treated faster, improving case management, increasing revenues, and improving reporting which in turn allows for better planning, policy making and budget allocation. Similar successes have been achieved in applying ICTs to strengthen capacities of health workers, both professional carers and trained volunteers. Peer consultation and e-learning platforms, as well as mobile tools supporting decision making and disease prevention activities in the field, helped to provide better care at lower levels of the health system, with more timely referrals for patients and better justifications for the treatment they require.
IICD has been active in the health sector since 1999. The first Roundtable Workshop was organised with the Internet Society of Ghana (ISOG) and the Ghanaian Ministry of Health in 1999 leading to a series of recommendations for ICT policy and programmes aiming to improve healthcare services in Ghana. Subsequent multi-annual health programmes were implemented in Mali, Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia and Malawi. Individual ICT4Health projects were also executed in non-focal countries such as Congo Brazzaville, Kenya, Senegal and Zimbabwe.
IICD’s key local partners in the health programmes included community health organisations and healthcare providers from the public and private (faith-based) sector in Ghana, Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. In the early years, IICD worked with national governments in Mali, Tanzania and Uganda advising them on the formulation of national ICT for Health strategies and policies. This was most successful in Mali were the policymaking process ultimately led to the foundation of L’Agence Nationale de Télésanté et d’Informatique Médicale (ANTIM), a government agency focusing on deploying sector-wide ICT-enabled innovations for the health sector.
Early IICD activities explored whether and how ICTs can add value to solving persistent challenges faced by a country’s health sector. Through the Round Table process (see The Way We Worked, ICT-led Social Innovation for more information), local stakeholders were encouraged to pilot ideas and concepts they saw as having high potential, aiming to gain insight in what actually works in their particular context and build in-country capacity to develop and scale workable ICT-enabled health services and solutions. Implementers, researchers and solution providers participating in the IICD-supported health programmes were encouraged to become active members of local knowledge sharing networks, further encouraging in-country expertise development and supporting lobby and advocacy activities for sector-wide integration of ICTs.
After 2010, IICD moved gradually away from national ICT-capacity building programmes and focused more on specific themes such as the inclusion of Community Health Workers (CHWs) in the health value chain, facilitating universal health insurance coverage, and enabling continuous professional development for health workers. In 2014 and 2015, IICD worked towards building (international) partnerships to jointly develop and implement e-health packages based on proven solutions for hospital information management, e-learning, clinical-decision support, referral, mobile data collection and health sensitisation. This resulted in the foundation of Africa eHealth Solutions (AeHS), a network organisation delivering the range of solutions that emerged from IICD’s health portfolio in Tanzania, Malawi and Zimbabwe. AeHS brings together users, developers and implementers who each contribute to the quality and sustainability of specific software solutions for the African health market.
Overall, in the period between 1999 and 2016, IICD supported approximately 45 ICT-enabled health projects and policy making processes in 10 different African countries. The below selection of successes provide an impression of the diversity of IICD’s work in the health sector:
- In Mali, IICD co-designed and co-implemented a tele-radiology service connecting doctors in regional hospitals with radiologists in the capital Bamako. The national platform and operational model allows technicians in the regional hospitals to upload x-rays and patient information to obtain expert diagnoses from radiologists and receive their advice on further treatment.
- In Tanzania’s Arusha region, IICD supported the development and implementing a customised Health Management Information System (HMIS) to collect, store and analyse data in 12 hospitals and health centres. This system saves time for patients and health staff and allows more accurate data generation about disease outbreaks, finance, etc. This not only increases the effectiveness of medical treatment but also the ability of the government to track health trends at district level.
- In Malawi, IICD supported the development of a mobile platform for continuous professional development allowing nurses and midwives to renew their professional license without having to spend time and money to travel to classes. This solution was rolled out in 17 health facilities with 1,400 nurses and midwives.
- In all 50 districts in the Northern Region, Upper East, Upper West and Greater Accra in Ghana, the use of a tool co-developed by IICD helps gather data more efficiently to inform and support pro-poor health interventions and policies. District Assembly members now use smartphones, tablets and mobile internet to gather factual data on real access to health services. The use of these technologies helps overcome challenges such as delay in receiving and submitting completed questionnaires, data entry, loss of questionnaires, and high mailing costs.