Highlights from M360 Africa: The way forward for digital health at scale – Part 2

August 14, 2018 | mHealth | Sub-Saharan Africa | Rwanda | Kim Viljoen

It’s always such a pleasure being in the same place as the digital health dreamers of the world – fortunately also the doers! It means that casual conversations over coffee always end with back of the napkin blue prints for changing the world. Although I’m not certain we quite nailed the recipe for that… yet… there were some great points raised in the health panel discussion (my colleague, Kate already shared a few key takeaways from that session in the latest mHealth blog) as well as in side conversations at the event that I’d like to share with you.

Governments need capacity building around digital health concepts. The role of government was discussed at length during the event. There is no longer a question of whether governments should be leading the digital health movement in their markets. As Kate mentioned in her blog, this was echoed by JP Nsengimana:

“The role of the government should then be to support these initiatives and create an enabling environment… leadership and coordination is needed to reduce overlap in this area…”

And actually, Olasupo Oyedepo shared a great quote with me from President Kagami himself that expressed the same sentiment: ‘…if the continent must develop, the countries should create the enabling environment for business to thrive.’ A great vision, but the concern is that many Ministries of Health are not in the position to lead the digital health industry with confidence and relevant expertise. Some Ministries of Health lack basic understanding of related terms or concepts and technologies. We’re yet to encounter a government that’s fully geared up to guide the industry along their digital health roadmap, let alone set the standards and regulations that enable interoperability between different solutions. Furthermore, the need for collaboration between different ministries introduces a new way of working with added complexities. The African Alliance of Digital Networks is one of the organisations that intends to support capacity building among governments through several strategies, but the rest of the industry has a role to play too:

  • Donors have a role to play by investing in capacity building activities for governments and funding organisations who can help governments navigate the more challenging aspects of implementing their digital health strategies and create internal advocates/champions for digital health. By financing activities that strengthen the capacity of governments, donors will be catalysing the growth of the entire digital health ecosystem in those markets. The goal should be to educate governments to the point where they are able to guide donors and other funders in making optimal investment decisions within their markets.
  • Private sector players, including mobile operators, need to play their part too. By sharing skills, expertise and resources to help position governments as digital health front runners private sector benefits from the strengthened relationship with government and an improved business environment with greater opportunity for scaling solutions nationally.
  • Private sector also needs to invest resources into building the business case for their solutions. Governments are not always well equipped to distinguish the benefit of one solution over another. Some capacity building or the development of relevant tools to support government along this process is required. Private sector needs to provide government with a rigorous assessment of the issues associated with existing methodologies or approaches and the potential return on investment (even demonstrated or predicted social return on investment) of the solution.
  • Private sector and broader digital health stakeholders need to provide evidence to add credibility to claims made in the business case – as an example, if the solution is claimed to save health workers time, historical data showing reduction in task duration when compared to traditional methods should be provided. Where possible, these benefits should always be quantified and a cost comparison to existing services should be provided. To reassure governments of the sound investment opportunity, private sector needs to detail potential risks associated with implementing the solution as well as the risk mitigation strategies employed.

These recommendations are by no means fully comprehensive, but they should get us all thinking in the right direction.

Let’s chat:
– Do you have any ideas around effective strategies or approaches for digital health capacity building for governments?
– Have you got any tips for building the evidence base or business case for digital health solutions for governments or other businesses?
– Any great resources we should look into as we build our understanding in this area?

Comment below or get in touch – mobilehealth@gsma.com

On Thursday, 30 August, the GSMA, in collaboration with the Global Digital Health Network, held a webinar on Digital health at scale: Key considerations for developing markets – Spotlighting the work of Mezzanine/Vodacom in Africa and Carlos Slim Foundation in Mexico. To find out what was discussed, click here to watch the presentation and download the slides.

Watch the presentation

Download the slides

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