By Fayemi Adegoroye
The COVID-19 pandemic has created unprecedented disruption for the global health and development community. Patients, especially those with underlying health issues that require continuous management, have found their lives complicated by challenges of access, safety, supply chain logistics, and financial stress like never before.
The short-term implications of this global challenge are evident everywhere, but the long-term consequences of the pandemic — how it will reshape health services delivery and accessibility in the post COVID-19 world — have started engaging the thoughts and attention of forward-looking service providers.
Experts have submitted that the outcry in virtually every country about the lack of equipment and supplies to test for and protect against COVID-19 will lead countries to reexamine their supply chains for critical health and livelihood related products.
For a nation like Nigeria, it was generally expected that this predicted wave of nationalism would catch us on wrong footing, given the fact that we have always lacked most of the required factors to develop a robust innovative and responsive health services delivery model.
Wealthy Nigerians have often preferred travelling abroad for medical treatment with the Minister of Health having been quoted as estimating that the country spends over $1 billion annually on medical tourism.
Therefore it is a no-brainer that with the emerging new normal world, a rethink of how healthcare and healthcare resources are accessed even by the comfortable and well to-do citizens has become necessary. Healthcare services delivery must undergo a transmutation from the physical, brick and mortar format to a more tech-driven approach. Thus, the concept of tech-for-health san borders cannot be dismissed lightly.
And Nigeria, now more than ever before, must confront using technology to transform her healthcare delivery system in a way that ensures a win-win for all.
The growth and sophistication of Nigeria’s telecommunications and ICT sectors in the last two decades as well as the increasing global tilt towards greater deployment of ICT for health (Health ICT) have continued to point health service providers in the country in the direction of embracing innovative new thinking required to strengthen and revolutionize the health system.
Since 1989, when the first attempt at healthcare computerization was recorded in the country, Nigeria had been expected to double up on her effort in making steady progress towards making her health space become strongly tech-driven.
It is on record that the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at the Obafemi Awolowo University, in conjunction with the Obafemi Awolowo University Teaching Hospital Complex (OAUTHC) and the University of Kuopio (now the University of Eastern Finland) Computing Centre in Finland, jointly established the country’s first project on health informatics (HI) in 1989. Through this collaboration, they developed a basic system for in-patient admissions, transfers, and discharges that has been enhanced over the years and is now known as the Made in Nigeria Primary Healthcare Information System (MINPHIS).
MINPHIS was the first digitalized hospital system in Nigeria to be locally developed and deployed to keep electronic patient records and generate various reports for health management. These reports include patient status, medical history, and admissions details such as length of stay, discharge summaries, mortality and morbidity data, and operations.
The recent COVID-19 pandemic appears to be a game changer as the idea of personalized clinic installed as an App on a patient’s mobile device has now become firmly established in the country’s health delivery space to take over from where MINPHIS and its other offshoots of the past stopped.
For a country that has for long been reeling under the various negative impacts of an underfunded health sector, the recent introduction of the grassroots-targeted PDI App by Pre Diagnosis International, a private sector, charity-driven, hybrid telehealth brand, is a commendable initiative that could prove landmark in the nation’s quest to maximize the scarce health resources at her disposal in the delivery of health services to the populace.
Although there have been a few other telehealth platforms aimed largely at the upper crust of the society, the uniqueness of the PDI App stems from its focus on targeting poor, vulnerable Nigerians in, especially, rural and semi urban parts of the country under an aggressive charity-styled Reach, Rescue and Fortify mantra aimed at delivering healthcare to two million vulnerable Nigerians annually.
The App is an interactive mobile application that gives users immediate access to highly trained and experienced full time PDI doctors who can assist them access quality healthcare from home, office, on a business trip or vacation. With a meagre annual subscription, the user can obtain and store latest blood pressure reading, heart health vitals, blood sugar information, as well as other vital statistics required to comprehensively evaluate the state of their health status. Also, the user is able to access free quality consultation and treatment for a myriad of ailments all year round without physically stepping out of his or her home as the doctor may order an investigation, give a prescription or counselling or initiate a referral to a secondary center via the interaction. And all these and other benefits are accessible at the payment of just the annual subscription and no other payment.
COVID-19 may have been a sudden and unexpected occurrence that has triggered sad and unfortunate illnesses and deaths, jolting the world in a way that has not been witnessed for several years. It may have, however, begun to nudge us as a nation to re-invent ourselves in many ways.
Efforts, such as the PDI innovative move to give patients full control of their health via cheap, personalized telehealth solutions as well as other Private-Public Partnerships (PPP) designed to improve the health and well-being of citizens deserve full applause for helping to speed up the re-shaping of Nigeria’s health sector.
-Fayemi Adegoroye is the Chief Project Officer of TECH4HEALTHNG, Lagos