A patient gets treatment at the Kuruman Trust mobile clinic. Picture: Supplied.
A patient gets treatment at the Kuruman Trust mobile clinic. Picture: Supplied.

OPINION: Using data to support health care in Africa

By Yaseen Khan Time of article published Jun 21, 2018

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JOHANNESBURG - An exceptional platform to digitally support health care professionals is fundamental to improve Africa’s health care in the short term.

According to the African Forum for Research and Education in Health, the continent has 24percent of the world’s burden of diseases, but only 3percent of its health care workers.

Compounding the problem is a lack of funds available to support African health care systems.

A Deloitte report found that Middle East and African countries spent $112.7billion (R1.55trillion) on healthcare in 2015, a mere 1.5percent of total global health care expenditure. To put this in perspective, North America alone spends nearly 30 times as much on health care as the entire African continent, despite its population being less than half.

The under-resourcing of Africa’s health care system is not only impairing the delivery of care to vulnerable citizens, but placing immense pressure on the available pool of health care workers, leading to an exodus of scarce skills to more developed countries. This is a disaster in the making.

The lack of capacity is creating highly pressured decision-making circumstances. One of the key issues affecting health care provision is poor, and sometimes, non-existent access to locally relevant information.

Doctors and medical professionals have a pressing need to efficiently access the most appropriate medicines and treatment information when making clinical decisions, instead of having to rely on "googling" and finding internationally authored content, which doesn’t speak to local patient, disease, and health-system factors.

A one-size-fits-all Westernised approach to treatment is not adequate to address local health care needs, which vary between and within African countries.

One simple everyday example of this is the fact that accurate antibiotic prescription varies according to regions as a result of changing microbial resistance patterns. Physicians efficiently accessing local expert data and guidelines is critical to stemming the global tide of antimicrobial resistance.

Solving some of the immediate health care challenges facing the continent requires a platform approach that connects point-of-care medical professionals such as doctors, nurses, clinicians, and pharmacists, to a comprehensive source of authoritative medical content and digital support services, provided by academic institutions and key opinion leaders, and brings in the full set of role players within the health care system of a given country or region to collaboratively act to support the medical workforce.

The EMGuidance platform has been established in partnership with a national network of pharmacologists, specialists, and medical institutions to ensure medical professionals have immediate access to a wide variety of accurate prescription guidance, treatment guidelines, which immediately, positively impacts medical care for most common medical conditions, in a manner that is accurate as well as population and resource relevant.

Using data to treat, predict outbreaks

The reality of Africa’s underdeveloped infrastructure - especially in rural areas - means traditional methods of information sharing are not adequate. Getting printed medicines guidelines to health care workers responding to the latest Ebola outbreak in Central Africa, for example, would take weeks.

With the platform, doctors and point-of-care medical professionals responding to the outbreak can gain instant access to up-to-date, local health care authority guidance and policy, equipping time-starved and overworked medical professionals with critical information that can save lives.

By centrally tracking the searches made by users of the platform, the platform may also equip health workers with advance warning of possible disease outbreaks. For example, an increase in searches relating to diarrhoea in a region that just experienced flooding, may point to a cholera outbreak that can be proactively managed before it gets out of hand.

Public and private sector partners would then be able to allocate sufficient resources to the area to control the spread of disease, while users would have the most up-to-date medicines and treatment information at their fingertips.

Access to information key to treatment

Current health care resources can take months - even years - to update with new information. Part of the problem with some of these resources is the issue of payment. Many of the current health care resources exclude medicines providers who are unwilling to pay a fee to be included.

By creating a direct link to primary health care providers, the platform facilitates an improved flow of contextual information that can reduce errors and enable improved patient outcomes. Through partnerships with the likes of the South African National Department of Health, South African Antibiotic Stewardship Programme and several affiliate local and pan-African academic bodies, the information that is provided to medical professionals is at all times up-to-date, accurate and specific to individual regions.

EMGuidance is available in South Africa via the Apple App Store and Google Play Store. A "lite" version is available in several other African countries, including Tanzania, Botswana, Ghana, Cameroon, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Sudan, Egypt, Zambia, Namibia, Botswana, Uganda, and Kenya.

Yaseen Khan is the chief executive of EMGuidance.

The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.


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