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Digital Health Takes Centre Stage In Nigeria

NIGERIA is intensifying its digital health initiatives to enhance healthcare access and delivery in response to a recent cholera outbreak. According to the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), the outbreak has resulted in 30 deaths from 65 confirmed cases out of 1,141 suspected cases across 96 local government areas in 30 states since January.

Digital transformation in health systems integrates advanced technology into all areas of healthcare, including electronic health records, telemedicine, mobile health applications, artificial intelligence, and data analytics. Speaking at the two-day Africa Digital Health Summit organised by Premier Health Systems (PHS) Consult, Lagos State Health Commissioner, Tunji Alausa, emphasised the necessity of digital transformation.

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‘In a rapidly evolving world, digital transformation is no longer a luxury, but a necessity,’ Alausa stated. ‘The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the gaps and challenges in the health system globally, emphasising the urgent need for innovative solutions to ensure resilient and responsive healthcare delivery systems.’

Alausa highlighted that digital health technologies are crucial for improving patient care, streamlining processes, reducing errors, and facilitating more accurate diagnoses and treatments. He noted that these technologies could bridge gaps to serve populations in rural and remote areas, ensuring no one is left behind in the quest to enhance healthcare delivery in Africa.

Participants at the summit expressed significant concern about the implementation of Electronic Medical Records (EMRs). Alausa explained that EMRs could ensure proper data gathering at health facilities, allowing for the early detection and tracking of disease outbreaks. ‘A robust electronic medical record system will provide validated data, enabling accurate patient information, improved care, and quality monitoring,’ he said.

Currently, many African countries still rely on paper charts and non-robust reporting measures. Transitioning to digital data capture and analysis will significantly enhance healthcare efficiency. Alausa reiterated that digital transformation is essential to bridge healthcare gaps, serve rural populations, and improve healthcare systems across Africa.

Alausa called for African countries to invest in infrastructure, internet connectivity, modern healthcare facilities, and capacity building. He emphasised the importance of ensuring these technologies are user-friendly and accessible to all, including the elderly and those with limited EMR practices.

Telemedicine, for example, can bring specialist consultations to remote areas, while mobile applications can provide health education, and electronic health networks can ensure continuity of care at different levels of healthcare providers. Alausa mentioned that Nigeria has reviewed its health sector to implement a digital health system as a key enabler for achieving quality care and universal health coverage.

Maxwell Antwi, the country manager for the global health NGO PharmAccess, highlighted the benefits of EMRs in capturing accurate patient data and avoiding errors. He noted that data analysis is challenging with paper records, whereas digital environments streamline this process.

Antwi suggested using open-source applications to ensure sustainability in digital health initiatives across Africa, avoiding the burden of annual licence fees. Gbemi Kayode-Bolarinwa, head of strategy and governance at the Lagos State Ministry of Innovation Science and Technology, added that EMRs would enable early decision-making on disease outbreaks, allowing for quicker responses.

Addressing concerns about data breaches, Kayode-Bolarinwa acknowledged that while this is a global issue, proper measures can minimise risks. Angeline Mutunga, a policy analyst from Kenya, stressed the need for African leaders to find sustainable ways to support health programs without relying on donor aid, which she described as insufficient for long-term health development.

The summit underscored the critical role of digital health in transforming healthcare systems across Africa, aiming for a more resilient, efficient, and accessible healthcare future for all.

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