An open source software e-health system being used in Kenya’s public hospitals since February has drastically cut costs and should pave the way for the model to be replicated in other East African countries.
The e-health system developed by Kenya government and development partners in 2011 is being used for disease outbreak surveillance, early infant diagnosis of HIV, management of vaccine delivery and health commodities like drugs.
Setting up an e-health disease surveillance system managed by a local mobile telecommunications company would have cost a whopping $2 million.
“But we decided to use open source software and the cost came down to $100,000. The software was developed by students from Strathmore University,” said Gerald Macharia, the head of Clinton Health Access Initiative in East Africa, one of the project partners with an oversight role over the e-health government project.
He said deploying commercial software developers is expensive, which has prevented many African countries from deploying the systems.
E-health systems are crucial in Africa where delivery of public health is poor because of low investments in equipment, facilities and the human resource.
The component of the e-health system that enables early infant diagnosis of HIV has already been replicated in Uganda and will be rolled out soon in Nigeria. Mr Macharia said the e-health system can be replicated in any other country upon request.
The key aim of the system is to improve the efficiency of the delivery of the primary health care.
The e-health system is part of the government’s plan to address the country’s low doctor to patient ratio estimated to be 0.14 physicians per 1,000 people, cut spending on non-core health activities and instead use the money to improve the quality of public health care.
Part of the plan is to create a health data warehouse under the e-government project that will lower cost by sharing medical data and ensure remote access to records and availability as well as same data to multiple users.
The project will also include telemedicine component that will enable doctors give instructions to hospitals in remote areas enabling subordinate medical staff to carry out required clinical and related procedures.
Other partners of the e-health project are the Rockefeller Foundation that has provided the seed money for the project, Strathmore University whose students have designed the open source software being used in the project and HP, the infrastructure provider.