Zambia takes lead on e-health

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Jeff Kapembwa

Lusaka- Zambia becomes the first country in Africa to launch the Growing Expertise in E-health Knowledge and Skills programme and the first in the Southern African region to launch a HIV generic drug.

The United States’ Growing Expertise in E-Health Knowledge and Skills electronic health care project (GEEKS) seeks to leverage technology and provide health services for men, women and children in Zambia as part of the 15-year President’s Emergency Funding for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) project.

The initiative is being undertaken in Zambia at level one to orient health staff on the health care solutions using advanced technology.

The US government, working in partnership with the government of Zambia through the Ministry of health and the Zambia National Public Health Institute, aims to build capacity of the health workforce to utilise health information and communication technologies to improve the quality of patient care.

Speaking at the launch of the GEEK training programme at the University of Zambia in Lusaka last week, US Ambassador to Zambia, Daniel Foote, said the initiative underscored the US government’s strong bilateral relations with the Zambia in resolving health care-related concerns through applied technologies.

Zambia’s GEEK health care training and implementation under the auspices of the US leadership will be rolled out in the country in partnership with the government through the ministry of health and the Zambia National Public Health Institute.

This, it is envisaged, will ultimately eek build capacity of the health workforce to use health information and communication technologies to improve the quality of patient care.

“We are proud to announce that Zambia is the first country in Africa to launch the GEEKS programme, with Thailand being the inaugural site. Starting this initiative here underscores our strong bilateral relationship with the Zambian government, particularly in the health sector, and its role in leading the way for the Africa CDC in the southern region,” Foote added.

Zambia has since 2004 benefited US$3.5 billion towards the fight against HIV under PEPFAR. The project has helped save over a million lives in Zambia and, at the same time, helped in preventing new HIV infections.

The Center for Dieses Control (CDC) Zambia, with PEPFAR funds, has made significant investments in health information systems, including the national electronic health record system SmartCare. Over 2 million people were enrolled in the system at over 900 health facilities.

Zambia National Public Health Institute Director, Victor Mukonka, commended the US for the unwavering support to Zambia. He said the development of robust information systems for data collection, collation and analysis remained critical for his organisation and other NPHI in the southern Africa region and the entire continent.

“Recognising that many gaps exist in our information system is an opportunity for us to improve data collection and analysis to increase quality information for programme management, policy decision and public health security,” Mukonka said.

The training programme was led by the Zambia National Public Health Institute in partnership with the University of Zambia supported by the US CDC.

At the same event, the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Health Professor, Elwyn Chomba, noted how information and communication technology had improved in Zambia. To date, over six million Zambians are accessing Internet and more are accessing mobile services.

The e-health will help Zambia undertake actual health provision, planning and data quality for consolidated decision-making through the seven strategic pillars of e-Governance set up.

In line with the Smart Zambia 2064 vision, the ministry of health launched the e-Health Strategy 2017-2021 under the vision: “To have quality, timely, secure and accessible Health information through an integrated national e-health system by 2021”.

In a separate interview, Health Minister Chitalu Chilufya disclosed that Zambia has accessed and distributed in various health centres, the generic drug-DTG to treat HIV infection. It is one of several antiretrovirals included in the “integrase inhibitor” drug class.

DTG, which has been rolled out in Africa ‑ chiefly in the Western hemisphere ‑ when combined with two other medicines in a single fixed-dose combination pill, is considered to be among the best current treatments for HIV and helps reduce the viroload in patients.

According to Chilufya, though the drug has been introduced into the health system and will be accessed by citizenry for free, its availability has previously been limited to Europe because of the cost attached to it.

“We have introduced the DTG in the health system on a pilot project, as part of our robust programme to fight the HIV pandemic and it is being administered for free…this is remarkable, especially that in Europe it fetches a fortune.”

 

The DTG fixed-dose combination of tenofovir/lamivudine/dolutegravir (TLD) costs an average US$75 per patient per year.  It makes DTG-containing ARV treatment regimens affordable for many low- and middle-income countries, according to health experts who confided in The Southern Times.

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