(Re)Building Health Systems in West Africa: what role for ICT and mobile technologies?

(Re)Building Health Systems in West Africa: what role for ICT and mobile technologies?

Lesley-Anne Long
mPowering Frontline Health Workers

Dykki Settle
Open Source for Global Health

The Ebola epidemic has brought the weak state of health services and systems in West Africa into the spotlight. It is broadly understood that stronger health systems would not only have minimized the impact of Ebola in West Africa, they would have also proven more resilient in the crisis. Even with the 11,000 deaths1 directly attributable to Ebola, countless more resulted from closed health facilities and health workers either unable or unwilling (understandably) to maintain their posts in the three countries.

Ebola is just one highly publicized example of the devastating impact weak health systems have for the health of populations. As the post-2015 agenda takes shape, low and middle income countries are emphasizing the need for stronger health systems and the critical importance of skilled and connected frontline health workers within these systems.

Figure 1: Global focus on the need for stronger health systems 2

In West Africa, the focus is now shifting from the immediate response to Ebola to long-term approaches that will strengthen routine systems and offer sustainable capacity and resilience for health.

To effectively recover from the chaos of Ebola and prevent future disease outbreaks from becoming as threatening, West African governments and development partners are making plans to invest more deeply in health systems. These investments will

support countries to address a disease burden that is shifting rapidly in unpredictable ways. Moreover, they are finding new opportunities to join forces in order to expedite interoperable health information systems (HIS) and strengthen institutional capacity of Ministries of Health in the area of HIS governance, leadership and management.

Two upcoming events in May and June, 2015 will bring governments and partners together to focus on these priorities, building a global harmonization and coordination agenda that transcend traditional national and organizational boundaries.

The first event in Accra, Ghana will be a four-day technical workshop on strengthening leadership, governance and systems for disease surveillance and data sharing using information and communication technologies. The second event, at Wilton Park in West Sussex, England, will build on the Accra discussions – participants will explore how ICT solutions created in response to the crisis can be effectively integrated into broader national ecosystems that meet future health needs of populations over the coming decade and beyond.

The harmonization and coordination agenda therefore frames the discussions at both meetings. This creates an opportunity for what are currently multiple and siloed solutions—including mobile technologies—to converge into whole-system solutions. By bringing together policy-makers, medical, telecom, biotech, implementation research, and donor communities, these two events begin the conversations that will guide and support strong digital health systems in West Africa and beyond.

1 As of May 6, 2015 from http://www.cdc.gov/vhf/ebola/outbreaks/2014-west-africa/case-counts.html
2 http://bit.ly/1dVNHQL

This blog is the first in a series, linked to the themes of the Accra and Wilton Park events. Over the next six weeks, thought leaders and experts will share their insights with the global community, focusing on topics such as HIS interoperability, frontline health worker training and support, best uses of data and long term collaboration.

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