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Regional Workshop On E-Health Focuses On

Nov 29, 2010 (Arusha Times/All Africa Global Media via COMTEX) — A three day EAC workshop on e-Health coordinated and financed by United States Trade and Development Agency took place from 8-11 November at the Serena Hotel in Kigali. The workshop was attended by over 100 delegates from the five East African Countries: Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Burundi and Rwanda.

Delegates from three countries, Kenya, Burundi and Rwanda were led by ministers of Health. The Kenyan delegation was led by Hon. Anyang Nyong’o, Minister of Medical Services and Hon. Samuel Poghisio, Minister of Information and Communication. Burundi delegation was led by Hon. Sabine Ntakarutimana, Minister of Public Health and the Rwandan delegation by Dr. Agnes Binagwabo, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Health.

Attending were also Mr. David Nalo, the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of East Africa, Kenya, and Dr. David Amuzu, Health Advisor, Commonwealth Secretariat, London.

The programme covered overview of e-Health in the EAC region; country initiatives and experiences were presented by the delegates. On the other hand international private sector with cutting edge technologies in e-health also presented their products covering ICT and e-health Software solutions in the market and those in development stages.

ICT issues covered the use of mobile phones in e-health, the Fibre Optic Broadband development in the EAC and the role of narrow band Satellite equipment in the region. It was concluded that despite the widespread Fibre Optic network in the EAC, the satellite has till a big role to play in the vast rural areas lacking electricity and FO possibilities.

The software demonstrated included both the open-source and commercial systems. To mention a few, the e-health software include the open-source Episurveyor and commercial IHMS of Kutana Clouds both develop in Kenya. The later is a robust Health Management Information System that is gaining its popularity in the region. The Oracle systems was also presented. As for mobile phone based systems, the LifeQube Mobile Platform demonstrated the use of Nokia 40 series phone for electronic medical records and other telemedicine capabilities.

Other tested telemedicine technologies were presented by the QUORUM technologies based in Sacramento, California. This particular group seems to be well advanced in e-Health solutions that include ICT, narrow and broad band solutions, software and telemedicine networking. With their wide experience in developing countries including India and Pakistan, QUORUM founded by a Kenyan born President and CEO seems be among the e-health enterprises that hold a better and possibly adaptable solutions for East Africa. Equally promising is South African developed LifeQube Mobile Platform that is developing the use of mobile phone for telemedicine including electronic medical records.

The workshop focused on the Digital Divide between the developed and developing countries. Solutions to narrow this gap seem to be within the reach of EAC and the gap can be narrowed significantly in the next decade or two. For example the Episurveryor and the IHMIS open source programmes develop by local Kenyans, the Afyapro of Tanzania and many other such emerging software in incubation are indicators of an evolution toward the goal of narrowing the digital divide.

Further as the e-Health solutions from software to ICT undergo an exponential growth, the costs of setting up e-Health solutions are bound to fall and become affordable to the common rural households as is the case with mobile phone communication. The mobile phone technology is today revolutionising communication and is fast bridging the digital divide as the rural poor become part of the knowledge society still dominated by the urban rich.

The EAC Workshop on E-Health which was opened by the US Ambassador to Rwanda, W. Stuart Symington was closed by the Deputy Director, USTDA, Ms Peggy Philbin.

Dr. Mark Bura is a Health Systems and Policy Consultant

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