The International Institute for Communication and Development (IICD) and the Tanzanian company NPK Technologies have launched Africa eHealth Solutions International (AeHS), a pan-African network of software developers and companies collaborating on software development and implementation for the African health market. With the initiative, IICD and NPK Technologies hope to give a boost to African software and product development by ensuring that such development meets the needs of the African health market for quality and sustainable solutions.
The use of technology is increasingly seen as instrumental in improving access and efficiency of healthcare on the African continent. Information and Communication Technology (ICT) improves planning and management of healthcare services, (targeted) dissemination of health information, and facilitates collaboration, cooperation and professional learning. This results in reduced waiting times, transparency of costs, better quality diagnosis and treatment, and better and timely information on health risks and rights for patients.
The uptake of ICT has not remained unnoticed. More and more software becomes available for the African market, though very few software are able to meet the needs of the African region. ”Using locally developed software often brings challenges along when you want to use it on a large-scale and across borders due to it being developed for a very specific market and consequently lacking interoperability with other software. Software developed for the global health market is relatively expensive for African hospitals and often fails to meet their particular needs due to lack of insight in the particularities of the different African health systems,” says Nic Moens, IICD’s Lead Advisor for Health.
AeHS will strike the right balance. The network organisation that emerged from the collaborative work with the Christian Social Services Commission (CSSC) in Tanzania and similar activities in Malawi, connects different software providers from various African countries that jointly manage and further develop an open source solution portfolio for the African healthcare sector. Each deployment is serviced by on-site programmers and tech support people who tailor the system to meet the client facilities’ individual needs. Software developed by individual members is shared in an online environment for feedback, testing and learning, thus ensuring quality control across the various local ventures and countries joining this pan-Africa initiative.
“The open set-up of AeHS and collaboration across countries is ideal for developing integrated solutions for hospitals in different African regions”, says Moens. “Initially we will focus on developing data management solutions such as the AfyaPro software for building Hospital Management Information Systems (HMIS). This solution is already implemented in 32 hospitals and health facilities across Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Malawi. We have seen throughout the years that using an electronic HMIS has an immediate positive impact on healthcare delivery, availability of staff for healthcare tasks and revenue generation.”
A recent study in Malawi shows that after implementing AfyaPro, a hospital’s annual per patient revenue increased by 12%, which allowed them to reinvest to improve healthcare services.
The AeHS product portfolio will gradually be expanded with solutions for peer consultation and professional learning (eCare) and an eHealth package for healthcare providers working at the lower levels of the health system. Software implementation and technical support services will be provided by local offices. The first office has already been established in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, where the first range of products and services has been launched in the presence of Marcos Mzeru representing the ICT Unit of the Tanzanian Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, and Petro Pamba Acting Director of CSSC in Tanzania. More local AeHS offices are to follow in the course of this year across the African region.