The UN’s Third International Conference on Financing for Development ended 16 July 2015. Its draft Action Agenda has some constructive and challenging propositions. Many of them have a direct impact on health, healthcare and eHealth.
The Agenda’s emphasis on its goal of promoting economic growth should help to increase African countries’ economies and provide more money for healthcare and its eHealth component. An eHealth challenge is then to track the growing opportunities with eHealth investment that produces prompt returns.
Inequality is an increasing challenge. There’s merit in ensuring that eHealth initiatives can help to redirect the trend. Examples are mHealth programmes that directly support disadvantaged populations in both rural and urban areas.
Another goal is positive socio-economic transformation in Africa. eHealth investment can help here by rebalancing programmes to include eHealth that supports better population health and less time in healthcare, so enables people to spend more time training and working. It may mean less emphasis on eHealth that provides administrative data with no direct impact on citizens’ health.
The inequality and transformation goals link to a recommendation that countries should set national spending targets for quality investments in essential public services for all, including health. Within each spending target, it’s feasible to set targets for each main type of resource, such as health workers, drugs and eHealth. This can set the affordability framework for eHealth programmes.
Providing high-quality services is another goal. eHealth can contribute directly to it with initiatives that improve patient safety, efficiency effectiveness, timeliness and better informed patients. These can help to achieve another goal to make effective use of resources. Success depends on selecting and implementing appropriate eHealth solutions and managing their risks, two constant eHealth challenges.
Access to data alone isn’t enough to realise its full potential. Endeavours are needed to ensure broad access to the tools and techniques needed to turn data into useful, useable and actionable information. This needs investment in standards, especially interoperability so data from different sources can be easily compared and used.
It also depends on an expanded capacity of eHealth skills and knowledge. The report recognises a sub-national deficit of adequate technical and technological capacity, financing and support. These need fixing as part of a rolling, implemented eHealth support strategy.
A regulatory framework’s needed to encourage entrepreneurship and a vibrant domestic business sector. Africa has considerable deficit in eHealth regulation, and needs to reduce it with a series of steady improvements in both regulation and compliance. The report says public policy’s needed to create the enabling environment.
Paying for this is always a challenge. The report welcomes the increase in Overseas Development Aid (ODA). On its own, it’s on enough. Also needed is collaboration that encourages knowledge-sharing and the promotion of co-operation and partnerships between stakeholders. These include governments, firms, academia and civil society, and entrepreneurship, and that includes business incubators, an important facility for mHealth start-ups.
Some African countries already have many of these themes in their eHealth strategies. The Action Agenda emphasises their importance, role and benefits, and steps them up into a bigger context.