IDRC Reports on eHealth Projects in Developing Countries
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IDRC has documented a series of eHealth and mHealth projects it supported in Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Kenya, Lebanon, Peru, and Viet Nam through its Applied Research Capacity building in eHealth (SEARCH) initiative.

The initiative involved local research teams working closely with community members, health providers, and decision-makers at local and national levels, and explored whether and in which circumstances eHealth and mHealth can “respond to key challenges to deliver quality services to everyone".

29 January 2018: The International Development Research Centre (IDRC) has documented a series of eHealth (electronic health) and mHealth (mobile health) projects it supported in Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Kenya, Lebanon, Peru, and Viet Nam. It notes that these projects have yielded valuable lessons on innovation to tackle inequities, and illustrate ways to overcome common challenges faced by eHealth programs, including with regard to gender inequality and women’s empowerment.

Titled ‘Overcoming eHealth challenges with social and technical innovations,’ the IDRC’s webpage that documents the projects focuses on outcomes and experiences linked to its Strengthening Equity through Applied Research Capacity building in eHealth (SEARCH) initiative. The initiative involved local research teams working closely with community members, health providers, and decision-makers at local and national levels, and explored whether and in which circumstances eHealth and mHealth could “respond to key challenges to deliver quality services to everyone.” In the context of this project, eHealth refers to the use of mobile phones and other digital technologies to improve the health and well-being of populations, while mHealth is used for tools with a strong mobile component.

In Bangladesh, IDRC reports on the development, by the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research Bangladesh (icddr,b), of a framework for integrating equity, accountability, and system integration considerations in the design, development, and evaluation of eHealth projects. Comprising 10 criteria on strategic vision, participation, transparency, responsiveness, equity, ethics, information governance, rule of law, performance, and sustainability, the framework is meant to ensure that government and eHealth implementers consider equity and accountability in project design.

In Burkina Faso, IDRC indicates that the MOS@N platform, developed locally using open source software, enables access to information about maternal and child healthcare, and living with HIV. Funded by IDRC and carried out in collaboration with the University of Montreal, the MOS@N project is a mobile phone communication system deployed in five health centres serving 26 villages in Burkina Faso. Text and interactive voice messaging systems issue messages in five local languages to ensure inclusiveness and greater accessibility. In addition, MOS@N can use solar recharging systems installed in health centres and provided to community health workers to counter erratic electricity supply.

In Kenya, the KEMRI-Wellcome Trust Research Programme, with the financial support from IDRC, carried out a mapping of the National eHealth Strategy first launched in 2011. The mapping’s findings are being used to: inform the review of the eHealth strategy; formulate the country’s first eHealth policy; and develop standards and guidelines. Guides to standardize hardware and software systems to ensure interoperability and set common standards for mHealth systems are also being prepared, IDRC notes. The 2011 National eHealth Strategy targeted areas including telemedicine, electronic health records, information for citizens, mHealth, and eLearning or distance education to boost health professionals’ knowledge.

In Peru, IDRC indicates that the Minister of Health signed, in January 2017, a ministerial order to implement an innovative eHealth system (WawaRed) throughout the country. Piloted in 15 health centres in the district of Ventanilla to improve maternal and child health, WawaRed should reach 350 centres countrywide, including 20 in the humid lowlands where the Zika virus continues to spread. IDRC states that researchers at Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia, with the Centre’s support, created an integrated data collection and analysis platform that links the country’s fragmented healthcare system, from local health centres to the central Ministry of Health. It adds that WawaRed is likely to expand to other areas of healthcare, including tuberculosis treatment and tracking HIV and other diseases.

Among other country experiences reported on the webpage, IDRC indicates that a community-based eHealth system (e-Sahha project) developed by the American University of Beirut and funded by IDRC is showing how non communicable diseases (NCDs) care can be effectively delivered to displaced and rural populations. The Centre notes that the eHealth system, tested in collaboration with the Ministry of Public Health in rural areas and the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) in Palestinian refugee camps, has increased diabetes and high blood pressure detection, reduced high blood pressure levels, and improved diabetes control. It also states that after one year, patients receiving text messages had improved their control of blood pressure and blood sugar levels, and many had changed their behaviors based on the messages they received.

IDRC supports research in developing countries to promote growth, reduce poverty, and “drive large-scale positive change.” The Centre is governed by a board of up to 14 governors, whose chairperson reports to Parliament through the Canadian Minister of International Development. Its head office is located in Ottawa, Canada, with four regional offices in Cairo (Egypt), Montevideo (Uruguay), Nairobi (Kenya) and New Delhi (India). [IDRC Webpage on ‘Overcoming eHealth challenges with social and technical innovations’]

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