How Tech Supports Health in Nigeria

In a country where the life expectancy is 53 years, HIV prevalence is 3.6% and where over 20% of the population have unmet family planning needs, Nigeria’s health system is in need of support.  During my trip to Lagos, I came across some interesting organisations which are coming up with innovative information technology based solutions to some of the challenges the nation is facing.

Straight from the plane, I managed to weave my way out of Lagos city’s maze of traffic to visit a school which was implementing a sexual health project by One World.  As part of their Learning About Living Programme, they have developed an interactive eLearning platform and SMS advice hotline, enabling teachers to tackle issues around sexual and reproductive health, traditionally extremely taboo in their culture, through an interactive computer based course, which adheres to the national curriculum.

I also met with Adam Thompson and Evelyn Castle from E-Health Nigeria.  They recognise how challenging it can be to identify the right new technologies to adopt, to contextualise them to local need and ensure that the capacity is available to maximise their utility.  Their projects include implementing Electronic Medical Records to improve
patient care, a Human Resources Platform, mobile data collection, technology
infrastructure, training and capacity building.  They prefer to work with existing platforms, personalizing them to context and needs.

Drug counterfeits are a real issue in Nigeria and can pose a serious threat to the nation’s health when expired or fake drugs are introduced to the system. Sproxil has developed a unique system for combating this problem.  Using any mobile phone, customers can text an item-unique code and get an instant response by SMS confirming the product’s  genuineness or warning the customer that they have a counterfeit product.  In the
future, they hope to expand their system for use in other markets such as electronics.

I was also able to attend the ICT for Africa Conference 2011, where organisations from across Africa explored innovative solutions to challenges facing their continent across all
sectors.  In the field of health, new methods for data collection and analysis, health record management and remote medical advice were explored.

Provided local ownership, contextualisation of tools and sufficient capacity building for medical professionals are achieved, information technology has the potential to dramatically strengthen health services across the continent by enabling trends to be identified and acted upon, accurate health advice to reach the most geographically isolated regions and more efficient operational procedures throughout the health system.