By, James Zere,
The Ugandan health sector has recently taken a new dimension driven especially by the low levels of resources committed by the government to the sector. Innovators have moved to harness the potential in the rapidly developing mobile communication network to bring health services closer to the people and in other instances to place health services in the hands of the people themselves.
Also referred to as teleHealth or mHealth, eHealth has recently been piloted across the country by various stakeholders in health sector as the country struggles to realise Universal Health Coverage. EHealth itself has been defined severally depending on the context in which it has been applied however, it can simply be understood as the use of electronic, information and communication technology in the provision of health services. EHealth in Uganda today consists of a cross-range of activities including the most basic like calling into the local radio station to get medical advice from the doctor’s show to the more complex like personally using a phone application to diagnose your health condition.
UNICEF Uganda under its ICT for Development program has taken the lead in implementing various innovations aimed at supporting the health sector; Sateliffe has also developed the Uganda Health Information Network for collection and communication to health information between the health workers at the community level and those at the higher levels of the health sector; students of Makerere University in 2011 developed WinSenga a mobile application to promote maternal health status of babies in their wombs using just a smart phone and followed this in 2012 with Matibabu, an application for taking a malaria test using just a phone and without using a needle at all; and the Uganda National Drug Authority has also developed an SMS based initiative for checking the authenticity of medicines by sending a unique code attributed to the medicines to a designated number for verification.
The government has caught up with the tide and commissioned the development of the National eHealth Policy. However, due to several legal issues pertaining to eHealth implementation, the Ministry of Health also issued a Moratorium in January 2012 vide Reference No. ADM 45/273/01 halting the implementation of any new eHealth initiatives or projects subject to certain administrative approval measures until the Ministry develops comprehensive policy guidelines for the same in Uganda.
The moratorium was a timely intervention for a rapidly developing highly unregulated sector which has the capacity to impact several people in different ways. Despite the potential of eHealth as demonstrated by this pilotitis map developed by UNICEF, there is need to define the regulatory and administrative framework in which eHealth is being implemented. Pertinent issues like data protection and governance which arise in eHealth implementation therefore need to be addressed if most of these very timely interventions are to cross the pilotitis threshold into actual solutions that make the lives of the everyday Uganda better to live.