MSH Nigeria Supports Federal Capital Territory's eHealth Policy Development

 {Photo by Akintunde Akinleye, courtesy of Photoshare}Nigerian woman.Photo by Akintunde Akinleye, courtesy of Photoshare

Management Sciences for Health’s Nigeria Program to build Leadership and Accountability in Nigeria's Health System (PLAN-Health) supported the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Health and Human Services Secretariat of the Health Planning, Research and Statistics department to develop an eHealth policy. The eHealth policy is a set of principles and actions to guide implementation of healthcare practices supported by electronic processes and communication, including the use of health applications on mobile phones. The objective of the e-Health policy is to ensure that the FCT health system uses information and communication technology (ICT) to address inequities in access to health services by rural and urban populations, and to ensure effective and efficient service delivery.

PLAN-Health supported the FCT Health Planning, Research and Statistics department to conduct a workshop on developing an eHealth policy for participants from the Federal Ministries of Health, Communications Technology, and Science and Technology, and FCT of Abuja Health and Human Services Secretariat from July 8 to 12. Representatives from academia, health professional organizations, the private sector, and development partners also attended. 

The participants analyzed challenges in the FCT healthcare system such as human resources shortages, lack of information systems or an ICT infrastructure, and the inaccessibility and high cost of existing health care facility services. The participants also designed eHealth development strategies informed by best practices from Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom.

At the end of the training, participants made the following recommendations to support eHealth implementation in FCT: 

  • Establish a leadership and governance structure led by the Steering Committee to implement the e-Health policy.
  • Enlist the active support and involvement of all major stakeholders at all levels (government, development partners and donors, academia, and professional bodies and associations).
  • Use different strategies for addressing human resources challenges. For example: 1) one doctor can attend to many clients at the same time (such as, when clients log in to a web portal to consult with a doctor, and a doctor can attend to several clients online and still maintain confidentiality); 2) bring ICT infrastructure and training to rural areas; since one doctor can attend to many patients, the cost is shared among these patients.

Working in groups, participants identified ICT implementation strategies, including: IP addressing and DHCP implementation, DNS services implementation, file and print services implementation, directory services implementation, corporate chat services, intranet, and document management services.

According to Dr. Iniobong Ekong, Secretary of the FCT eHealth Committee:

“[The eHealth policy] will create ownership, improve coordination and direction, and establish standards and regulations of all existing parallel eHealth projects into a single platform for accelerated achievement of the common health goal of the FCT strategic health development plan. eHealth will also provide a useful platform for a more effective and efficient healthcare delivery system by increasing access to qualitative healthcare, reducing cost, enhancing health promotion and disease surveillance, and improving planning and decision making processes for health administrators. Better decisions will be made due to increased patient choice and improved data management.”

eHealth is a cost-effective approach that can reduce the number of people who go out of the country to access medical services. And, because eHealth consultancies can occur online, eHealth will not only serve those in the rural areas; it will make life easier for those in the urban regions who don’t have enough time to go to hospitals or want to avoid the long waiting lines at health care facilities. People will be able to conveniently access services through ICT, and health experts will be able to attend to more than one client at a time.

The FCT Health and Human Services Secretariat, represented by Dr. M. B. Kawu, director of Health Planning, Research and Statistics, expressed support for the effective implementation of the eHealth policy. The FCT Minister Senator Bala Muhammed has endorsed the policy, which if implemented, will make FCT the first Nigerian state to introduce these innovative practices.

The Program to build Leadership and Accountability in Nigeria's Health System (PLAN-Health) is a five-year intervention funded by PEPFAR through USAID and implemented by Management Sciences for Health. By its conclusion in 2015, the program aims to have raised a cadre of skilled, motivated individuals in the health sector to continue support processes started beyond the program’s life-span, and to have the strengthened leadership and management skills of several public and civil society organizations at various levels for improved delivery.