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Community-based ICT for Maternal Healthcare in Africa

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Strengthening primary healthcare delivery in Africa

Technological innovation can play an important role in strengthening people-centred healthcare delivery. An EU-funded project collaborated with Ministries of Health to co-design and validate an electronic platform to enhance patient diagnosis and treatment in resource-constrained environments.

Digital Economy icon Digital Economy
Health icon Health

Currently there is limited use of technology at the point of care in primary healthcare facilities across Africa. Paper-based patient registries make it difficult to create comprehensive medical histories for patients engaging with multiple medical services. It is also time-consuming to capture mandatory monthly aggregate reporting data. An electronic healthcare information system The Horizon 2020 EU-funded mHealth4Afrika project addressed these challenges by developing a cross-border oriented, multi-lingual patient-centric health platform. The platform integrates electronic medical and health record functionality, use of medical sensors, visualisation and decision support tools and automates counting of mandatory aggregate reporting data. As project coordinator Prof. Paul Cunningham explains: “The objective of mHealth4Afrika was to strengthen primary healthcare delivery – particularly maternal and newborn healthcare – in resource-constrained environments.″ The project involved direct collaboration with key stakeholder groups including Ministries of Health, district health offices, healthcare facility managers and healthcare professionals in resource-constrained urban, rural and deep rural environments in Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi and South Africa. This close collaboration helped identify needs of healthcare facilities, ensuring the platform addressed both day-to-day and cross-border requirements in real-life working environments. mHealth4Afrika complies with WHO regulations on the use of electronic health records (EHRs) to enhance patient diagnosis and treatment. EHRs are used to store patient history, lab tests and test results captured by sensors. Additionally, the platform integrates analytical, visualisation and decision support tools to facilitate monitoring and interpretation of patient results, making it easier to use. Key advantages include the automatic generation of patient histories as well as mandatory aggregate monthly report data, which saves significant time and reduces human error. The healthcare professional dealing with a patient can quickly view the patient's medical history, data collected from previous consultations, test results, real-time visualisation of vital sign readings and risk factors. This improves both the quality and continuum of care. At the same time, SMS appointment reminders support greater patient engagement and retention. The mHealth4Afrika pilot platform has been installed and used on a day-to-day basis in 23 intervention health facilities to capture both current and historical medical records. These facilities currently serve over 886 000 people in Ethiopia, Kenya and Malawi. Feedback received to date has been very positive, confirming that mHealth4Afrika is a comprehensive, easy-to-use health information platform that supports the holistic management of patient data. The impact of ICT infrastructure and digital literacy in healthcare The introduction of basic ICT infrastructure and provision of digital training and support in resource constrained environments has significantly enhanced the quality and consistency of primary healthcare delivery in participating healthcare facilities. Although the project’s initial focus was on maternal and child health, medical services now supported include cervical cancer screening, TB, antiretroviral, outpatient department and diabetes, offering holistic tracking of patients. Furthermore, by introducing medical sensors, mHealth4Afrika aims to identify any cases requiring urgent action while reducing the number of cases referred for tests in secondary and tertiary health facilities. Prof. Cunningham notes “there is considerable demand to scale adoption of mHealth4Afrika in new countries as well as Ethiopia, Kenya and Malawi, which requires additional funding for infrastructure, digital literacy training, adaptation and deployment.″


mHealth4Afrika, healthcare, platform, electronic health record (EHR) , Africa, information system

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