The healthcare sector in Tanzania has been digitally driven for quite sometime now and it is rapidly making excessive inroads for a positive transformation.
Although being a developing country, the digital solutions, both in their scope and number, have been rapidly increasing across Tanzania’s health landscape, and the ministry there estimates that more than 160 digital health systems related to it are being used currently.
In the gamut of digital health comes digital transformation for healthcare, which essentially means incorporating software, hardware, as well as other services. Talk of digital health applications and the umbrella includes mobile health apps, electronic health and medical records, telehealth and telemedicine, and also personalised medicine.
As per Dr. Liggyle Vumilia, the telemedicine coordinator of the Ministry of Health, 2007 was the year when the digital sector across the world saw a transformation, and that is the time when the Tanzanian government began to make serious efforts by starting the process of formulating congenial policies that would help build the healthcare industry within the country.
Apparently, the country’s first formal policy release on the role and significance of digital technology appeared in 2013 and was known as the National e-Health Strategy. Dr. Vumilia adds that the strategy indeed helped in accelerating the health system transformation by providing timely access to information across hospitals, even in the remotest of locations, gave great administrative support and even helped with clinical operations to a significant extent. According to him, the internal digital systems happen to be a part of the government’s plan to discard paper forms that put the patients’ confidentiality in jeopardy. Tanzania has also released a new policy document that is known to cover the period between 2019 and 2024.
It is also a known fact that a health strategy would have to deal with some of the challenges that remained unresolved by its predecessor, like limited e-health skills, inadequately trained personnel, decision makers, and even users’ apprehension towards digital solutions, to name a few. The publication of the new documents puts forth the fact that for even the poorer regions of the world, digital approaches and transformations aren’t a royalty. The new strategy, as expected, also continues to play a pivotal role in guiding the novel digital health initiatives.
The strategy reflects on ten priority areas that will help guide the next ten years when it comes to digital innovation across the country. The initiatives range from toughening the surveillance of diseases, response and reporting to the apt use of telehealth in order to build the capacity of a health worker in the digital landscape that is changing and, at the same time, impart specialised care to the most far-flung locations.
The idea behind the strategy is to make use of digital technology to elevate health systems in the fields of leadership and governance, resource management, information systems related to health, supply chain of health commodities, and finally, quick and efficient delivery of services. Hence, in a way, the strategy puts forth guidance on designing, implementing, and coordinating digital initiatives related to health that focus on improving outcomes and thereby achieve the universal health care goal. There are plans to install high-quality imaging equipment as well as CT scans across regional hospitals across the country with the help of the IMF’s COVID relief fund. As per Dr. Vumilia, through the imaging machines, specialists from major hospitals will be able to acquire images from regional hospitals and provide their diagnosis and treatment without the patient having to travel outstation for it.
However, there are a certain set of challenges as well that the health delivery systems are going through, such as crippled health infrastructure, a dearth of tools, and a capacity for fewer human as well as technical and financial resources.
These are all existing challenges that are pretty high on the ladder as far as halting the digital transformation in the health sector is concerned. Dr. Vumilia says that some sort of effort is needed to build capacity when it comes to the few healthcare professionals who still want to rely on the traditional way of getting things done.
Another issue that crops up is the unreliable power and internet connection, which often ends up pushing caregivers to stick to paper files rather than going digital. There are experts suggesting that the healthcare sector needs to maintain backup plans for seamless power as well as Internet connectivity in order to make sure that the service speed is maintained to the point. That said, there are certain good prospects as well in the digital takeover of the healthcare system, with strong political will for a bent towards socio-economic development and also the alignment of the digital strategies that take into account Vision 2025.