Ghana: Bridging Health Gaps in Rural Areas Via Telemedicine

E-health is one of the globally efficient ways of providing health services, with the availability of internet, it is easier to communicate health solutions via smart phone applications and toll-free voice calls. However, the situation is not the same for Africa, smart phone and mobile technology is not solving the health problems in rural communities – purposely. The process which is largely referred to as ‘Telemedicine’, must be utilized to bridge the gap between health care and rural areas that lacks infrastructure.

The process which involves networking health workers in rural areas, especially places where health equipment are lacking, with health professionals and hospitals in the city via mobile phones. Though not common in Africa, recent reports demonstrate usage of telemedicine technology in countries like Ethiopia and South Africa. West Africa has launched similar projects with Ghana playing a functional role with a great implementation triumph in one of its pilot project. The project which was induced largely by the Ghana Health Service and the Ministry of Health with funding from Novartis Foundation, has been very successful.

With a teleconsultation facility in place, the telemedicine model provides health practitioners in some rural areas within the Ashanti Region of Ghana with a toll-free cell phones that enhances free consultation services with experienced and expert nurses in well-structured health centers in the city. According to the Ghana Health Service, the project served thirty rural communities within a single district in the Ashanti Region.

Evidence based, the project has really impacted maternal-related sector than any other sector during a 3 year implementation period. In 2013, more than half of the calls received at the teleconsultation facilit was successfully solved via telecommunication. By, 2015, it was revealed that the project was serving almost the entire Amansie West District. With such exceptional and encouraging outcome, additional teleconsultation facility have been launched to provide services to more health centres in rural settings.

Health consultants in the country has commented that the project is cost-effective with regards to an implementation cost of 50K USD in a comparative to building a well-furnished infrastructure fit to be pronounced a health centre. Additionally, the teleconsultation facilities serve thrice the number of people an actual health centre might serve within similar time frame. It is convenience and easily accessible – no need for transport in the cases of villages that lack proper roads and routes.

Despite the good remarks, dealing with mobile phones and relying on network can be somehow hectic. Additionally, there are some challenges that needs to be resolved as early as possible – if Ghana needs to be a leading telemedicine practitioner in Africa. According to the Project Manager of the National Telemedicine Project, their biggest challenge is funding. Funding to train e-health staff and workers across the country and also to maintain equipment and technology within the teleconsultation facilities. Such a nationwide project could cost about 6 million USD and thus, there is a need for continuous government support and revenue generation during operational stage of the project which is very necessary to enhance scaling up of the project and also to ensure sustainability.

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