Given the common problems with access to health care and the disparity in the distribution of health centers, several African countries are looking to mobile technology to bridge the gap. The process, broadly referred to as ‘telemedicine’, focuses on connecting health workers in small communities usually lacking in health equipment and capacity to experts in city health centers through mobile phones and, in some cases, the internet.
While telemedicine has yet to gain traction broadly on the continent, some progress has been made in South Africa, Ethiopia and Mali, but Ghana could top that list. The country’s health service and ministry have committed to scaling up a telemedicine pilot project that has proven successful in one of its regions.
Set up in Amansie West, a district in the Ashanti region, Ghana’s telemedicine model provides nurses in smaller clinics in parts of rural Ashanti with toll-free mobile phones with which they can call a teleconsultation center, manned around the clock with experienced nurses who can provide expert medical advice.
Run from 2011 to 2014, Ghana Health Service officials say 60 percent of calls in the pilot phase were maternity-related while 54 percent of the calls in 2013 were resolved by phone. In the past, those patients would likely have needed to embark on arduous journeys to get treatment. The effect has been two-fold as it markedly improved access to health care for patients in rural areas and also improved capacity and expertise for the health workers in the community clinics. During the three-year pilot phase, the TCC served only 30 communities in the Amansie West district but in 2015, it was scaled up to cover the entire district. The result: more calls and increased access to health care.
The pilot teleconsultation center was set up and funded by Novartis Foundation in partnership with Ghana’s Health Service. To this effect, three more TCCs have been already been set up in addition to the pilot. With the cost of setting up the TCCs pegged at $50,000, it represents a cheaper alternative to building well-equipped clinics across various regions.
But telemedicine is not without its challenges in Ghana.
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