In a move meant to spur adoption of e-health services and solutions, the Kenya government has developed a national e-health strategy through the ministry of medical services in order to help enhance health service and medicare provision by utilization of information and communications technologies.
The strategy is expected to among other things address the country’s low doctor to patient ratio which is currently estimated to be 0.14 physicians per 1,000 people while expenditure on health care services takes up about 4.9 per cent of the GDP.
Dr Katherine Getao, ICT secretary at Kenya’s e-government directorate, said that the directorate is working together with stakeholders to promote the adoption of a universal personal identifier for health applications, adding that warehousing of people’s health data is currently ongoing.
Speaking at the recent AfriHealth conference organized by AITEC in Nairobi recently, Dr Getao said that the health data warehouse would ensure availability of accurate and better quality data.
“The health data warehouse will lower cost by sharing, increase convenience for people, minimize expensive repetitions and ensure seamless movement between providers. It will also ensure remote access to records and availability as well as same data to multiple users,” said Dr Getao, adding that this would open up opportunities for the use of technology in healthcare provision.
The warehouse will have a personal key shared by all health stakeholders with information comprising of people’s medical history, health insurance and subsidies as well as demographics, drugs, diseases, tests and test results and therapies.
Maurice Mars from South Africa’s University of KwaZulu-Natal and member of the country’s tele-medicine association said that developing countries- most of which are in Africa – are faced with various health-related challenges including poverty and low health budgets, scarce human resources and lack of infrastructure.
“While developed countries spend between 2 to 6 per cent of their health budget on health-related ICT services and solutions, with the US spending about $ 55 per person every year, Africa spends only about $ 1 on the same,” said Mars.
According to the US’s Telemedicine Reporter of September 2011, tele-health or e-health “lowers spending on chronically ill by 13 per cent while the global telemedicine is projected to grow at compound annual rate of 19 per cent with m-health market projected to hit $ 7 billion by 2017.” The Telemedicine Reporter adds states that smartphone health applications are expected to exceed $ 400million by 2016.
Local software developers are also working on both web and mobile applications meant to bring the benefits of ICT to the medical arena.
Recently, Shimba Technologies, a local software development outfit, and Nokia launched MedAfrica, a mobile application that provides information about medical solutions upon download with the aim to make healthcare information affordable and accessible to Kenyans.
“MedAfrica seeks to improve the health of communities and regions in which it operates by increasing access to healthcare-related information and services in Africa. Good health is a universal need that affects the output of communities directly impacting their socioeconomic standing,” said Steve Mutinda, Shimba Technologies’ founder.
The MedAfrica app aims to create platforms that facilitate dissemination of information and build communities around the different issues and conditions.
“The content in the platform will be provided by the government (courtesy of open data portal), private sector, academia and the general health practitioners. Kenya has a population of 40 million and 7,000 registered medical practitioners yet it enjoys mobile phone penetration of 26 million,” said Mutinda, adding that this makes it viable for mobile phones to disseminate health-related content in the country.
The MedAfrica app is currently available for download in Kenya and other African countries with similar infrastructural challenges as Kenya’s. The platform will be accessible via a number of channels – mobile applications (Java, Nokia, and Android), mobile web, Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD), web and short message service (SMS).
Shimba Technologies hopes to partner with government institutions, pharmaceutical companies, medical associations, medical support groups, non-governmental organizations, mobile network operators and general populations in order to drive uptake of the software.
Adoption of e-health is gaining prominence globally, with latest research from Juniper Research indicates that mobile healthcare and medical application downloads will reach 44 million in 2012, and rise 142 million by 2016.
“Remote patient monitoring will step in to reduce the cost burden of unhealthy lifestyles and aging populations. But while remote patient monitoring is already showing both positive medical outcomes and cost savings over outpatient care, more trials would still benefit mHealth in order to further convince the medical establishment of its benefits,” states the Juniper report.