Healthcare professionals on the sidelines of the Transform Africa Summit in Kigali have emphasised the role of adopting digital solutions if the healthcare sector is to transform significantly.
At a session themed “Investing in Digital Health for Family Planning,” organised by Imbuto Foundation, healthcare experts argued that integrating mobile technology and other digital platforms into healthcare system will promote the sector and particularly promote family planning.
Dr Okasha Mohamed, the Head of Gynecology Department at Legacy Clinics Kigali, said the possibilities of integrating digital technologies in healthcare systems are endless as it makes sharing of information is easier.
“Digital healthcare can generally be impactful. We believe that digital solutions and ICTs can be used to enhance efficiency of family planning strategies. One example is that it can facilitate and make saving patients data easier,” he noted.
Mohamed particularly highlighted that there is need to put efforts in sensitizing hospitals to invest in digital health and promote paperless health system.
Rwanda has been promoting family planning strategies, reducing maternal mortality from 1,071 in 2000 per to 100,000 live births in 2015.
Despite this progress, the country still records mortality rates, both for mothers and infants.
According to the Demographic Health Survey (DHS) 2014/15, neonatal mortality stands at 20 per 1000 live births, infant mortality at 32 per 1000 live births, children under five mortality rates at 210 per 100,000 live births, in addition to high malnutrition rates, with stunting recorded at 38 per cent.
The country also faces an increase in teenage pregnancy, currently estimated at 7.3 per cent. 7 per cent adolescents, aged between 15 – 19 years, are mothers or pregnant with their first child.
On the other hand, Josephine Murekezi, the President of Rwanda Association of Midwives, emphasised that there is a need to encourage more awareness about family planning and through digital channels access to critical information can be easily accessible.
Sandrine Umutoni, the Director General of Imbuto Foundation, highlighted that those resources and tools, digitalised health services enable them to put their health in their own hands.
“These services, accessed through our computers, phones and other mobile gadgets, offer us endless opportunities to monitor and improve our health, as well as access information that is constantly allowing each of us of to make informed decisions on how, where and when to heal and maintain our health,” she said.
Umutoni said global and regional bodies as well as individual countries have prioritised improving their health sectors and health systems, and information and communication technology is going to be at the centre of that agenda.
The World Health Organisation in May last year, resolved to urge member states to “assess their use of digital technologies for health” and “prioritise the development and scale-up of digital technologies as a means of promoting equitable, affordable and universal access to health.”
The African Union’s Agenda 2063, on the other hand, places the accessibility of quality health services, especially for women and girls, as one of its key aspirations, alongside the improvement and use of ICTs.
“Similarly, in Rwanda, through our National Strategy for Transformation (NST), we aspire to a country where access to quality health is ensured for all Rwandans – and we plan to do so by pushing towards modern households, able to access “affordable and adequate infrastructure and services” at all times,” she remarked.
Rwanda already boasts a number of healthcare services that are delivered through digital technologies.
Currently, hundreds of patients are able to consult doctors using their mobile phones, thanks to Babyl’s digital healthcare platform.
On the other hand, Kasha, another technology platform, is enabling accessibility of female healthcare and personal care products.
The platform also allow for female consultation when it comes to birth control, fertility, sexually transmitted diseases and periods, among others.
Celestin Twizere, a lecturer at the University of Rwanda, too believes that countries and their stakeholders should not really shy away from investing in digital health solutions.
“The good news is that investing in digital health is sustainable. When financial and human resources are properly managed, we get a return on investment. Therefore, people should not shy away from investing in this field,” he noted.
For Josephine Nyiranzeyimana of Rwanda Information Society Agency (RISA), there is a need to focus on youth.