There is a huge amount of potential when it comes to information and communication technology (ICT) and the Ministry of Health Zambia (MOH) recognises and utilises this as a way to transform healthcare delivery, enabling information access and supporting healthcare operations, management and decision making.
A HEALTHY AND PRODUCTIVE ZAMBIA
Despite improvements, the Zambian healthcare sector is still largely characterised by a fragmented landscape of ICT start-up projects, not to mention the numerous data and health information systems (HIS) silos, which halt the progression of the effective sharing of information between healthcare participants.
At present MOH, supported by the Zambian Government, partners and private institutions are continuing to invest in various ICT initiatives – particularly due to the noticeable absence of national coordination and planning – in order to progress with the effective utilisation of resources and creation of new solutions.
“The Government of the Republic of Zambia through its ongoing health sector reforms aim to improve health outcomes,” explains MOH on its website. “Through part of these reforms, Ministry of Health has developed strategies, including the National Health Strategic Plan – 2011 to 2015 – which enables us to guide priority settings and deployment of resources within the health sector.”
Although the implementation of strategies are often promised to produce positive results, having to create the best possible outcomes – particularly when faced with increasingly high pressure situations – does require a fundamental transformation for the healthcare sector and particularly the way it is delivered and managed moving forward; for companies such as MOH, it will be vitally important to stay ahead of this curve.
As previously mentioned, the impact of ICT has – in the past few years in particular – significantly impacted multiple areas of the society that MOH works within, and it looks set to have a very positive impact on the delivery of healthcare services.
“Training in this area is pivotally important for us, with the purpose of this strategy being to use ICT as a way to leverage service delivery,” adds MOH. “These developments actually coincide with the Zambian Government’s adoption of a different paradigm, working on rolling out a ‘SMART Zambia Now’ scheme across the country.
“It is our considered view that with the addition of appropriate commitment and support from Governmental bodies, health workers, cooperating partners (CPs) and other key stakeholders, our strategies will significantly improve and contribute to the management of the health sector as a whole.”
Urging stakeholders to thoroughly involve themselves in the implementation of MOH’s eHealth strategy, has been at the top of the Company’s list of priorities, particularly when it comes to the familiarisation with this important document.
It has also been particularly important to employ a strategy that is both holistic and inclusive, with the development of the eHealth strategy, using it as a participatory process which brings together key stakeholders such as CEEGICT, ZICTA, CDC, USAID and CHAI, all of which are able to share their experiences in the implementation of eHealth interventions.
SOCIAL AND CULTURAL CHANGES
The Ministry of Health’s eHealth strategy recognises the huge impact of improving the delivery of healthcare to the masses, not to mention the benefits that come with systems such as eHealth, making health systems more efficient and responsive to dynamic needs.
“A particularly large contribution has been found through social and cultural changes which work towards building the understanding that the health sector must now integrate ICT into its delivery of quality health services to citizens,” continues MOH. “It is a very exciting time as we are emerging from a severely constrained health system, with many new opportunities on the horizon.”
It is important to remember that Zambia has a particularly high disease burden, characterised by a high prevalence and impact of communicable diseases which have a vast social impact, including malaria, HIV and TB, not to mention the especially high neonatal and child morbidities and mortalities.
“Recently the country has also been faced with a rapidly rising burden of non-communicable diseases – particularly including mental health – which are emerging from a severely constrained health system and providing opportunities for the Ministry.”
Zambia’s long-term socio-economic development agenda has and continues to be guided by the National Vision 2030, aiming to transform the country into a prosperous nation by 2030.
“A particularly exciting prospect for the Ministry is the fact that Vision 2030 will be prioritising healthcare in particular,” the MOH expands. “There is a commitment to the attainment of equity and access to the most cost effective quality health services.”
The sector’s particular focus in this regard is the emphasis on a continuum of care, including promotional, preventative, curative and rehabilitation services. Looking forward it is possible that this continuum of care could be challenged by the burden of diseases in Zambia – which presently is very high and characterised by the emerging burden of the aforementioned non communicable diseases.
“The focus is to mitigate the challenges and improve health care services using Government developed policies,” affirms MOH. “Before the implementation of the 1991 National Health Policies and Strategies, the Government had been using the Public Health Act as guidance; however the successive National Development Plans have excellent guides to healthcare.”
The country has been particularly focused on developing and implementing this successive Nation Health Strategic Plan since 1995. However, over such a long period of time, changes in the political, economic, social, technological and epidemiological profile of the country have posed new challenges for the sector.
MOH continues: “From 1995 to date, our Government has developed national policy specific steps towards better healthcare, however, the lack of an overarching National Health Policy is a gap that will need to be filled through developments in the future.”
Zambia’s National Health Policy for Zambia seeks to respond to these challenges, many of which are already being worked on in the context of Vision 2030, taking into consideration other relevant national, regional and global health related policies, protocols and strategic frameworks – including Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
ENVIRONMENT AND CIRCUMSTANCE
Even with all of the developments in policies driven by the Zambian Government to positively impact healthcare, the health of individuals and communities is to a large extent, determined by the environments and circumstances in which they both live and operate.
“Included within these factors are the social and economic environment in which people live, the physical environment, the individuals characteristics, behaviour and circumstances,” explains MOH. “These are commonly referred to as the determinants of health, or the conditions in which people will be healthy or unhealthy.
“These factors, such as the state of the persons surrounding environment, standards of which they reside in, access to food and essential nutrition, levels of education, physical activity and attitudes towards seeking help with their health will have a huge impact on their health.”
It is in cases such as this, that the importance of education and in particular education in health is ever increasingly important, with learning being among the major determinants of health and development in Zambia.
“As we move forward and expand, it is pivotal to provide the right education to equip people with the knowledge and skills that they will need to access and understand information on health – including their personal health and that of those around them,” concludes MOH. “General education will also increase the opportunities for job and income security, which will have a direct impact of health and wellbeing.
“It is very important to us that we continue to assist in this development of healthcare and the education surrounding it, not only providing help for our generation but for many years to come.”