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Author Topic: Nigeria’s multi-million naira telemedicine project in limbo  (Read 5483 times)
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Francis Umeoguaju
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« on: March 03, 2011, 01:48:09 am »


Nigeria’s telemedicine project championed by the Federal ministry of Science and Technology in collaboration with the Federal ministry of health is yet to fly years after it was launched with an ambitious take off grant worth hundreds of million naira.
The project, which was prosecuted by a consortium of Nigerian experts through the Federal ministry of Science and Technology under the headship of Professor Turner Isoun, was intended to bridge the huge healthcare delivery gap that currently exists in the country by deploying Information Technologies to bypass logistic challenges. 
About four years after the multi-million naira project was commissioned with the launching of a mobile satellite clinic, the truck bearing the satellite and other equipment for used during the pilot project is currently packed in the premises of the Federal ministry of health in Abuja. 
Although, other private initiatives have tried to make up for this, the benefits of the government project has been seen more as a concept than reality for the few Nigerians that know what telemedicine is.
According to experts, this is a disservice, considering the capability of Telemedicine to take high quality health care to even the most remote parts of Nigeria, thereby reducing the problem of accessibility to health for a significant proportion of the population. 
Founder of the Society for Telemedicine and eHealth in Nigeria (SfTeHiN), Dr. Olajide Adebola, said the project was a pilot that was somehow lacking in the high-level stakeholders condiments for sustainance.

Adebola, who spoke in a phone interview with Daily Independent said, “It was a pilot project that was meant to be scaled up in the second phase. But it required a high-level collaboration that brings together a blend of high-level stakeholder like soft ware developers, technology developers and experts in related areas for it to succeed that were maybe lacking.” 
According to him, the pilot project delivered at inception but said the unfortunate mishap that befell the Nigerian communication satellite (NigComSat-1) may have affected its continuity. 
It would be recalled that Nigeria’s attempt to put a telecommunication satellite (NigComSat-1) into space ended up a disaster, when the satellite reportedly developed faults and got missing in space afterwards. 
“The project was tied to NigComSat. Maybe it would come back to life again once the new NigComsat satellite is up and running,” he said. 
Adebola said a bigger challenge to Telemedicine in Nigeria is the frequent changes in government, which he said has been most felt by SfTeHiN. “I have had to work with no fewer than five ministers on Telemedicine. This has not been so great an experience,” he said. 
He said telemedicine require a feasibility and needs assessment study for it to actually be functional and relevant to the people. 
“It doesn’t make sense to introduce a technology that the people do not see a need for,” he added. 

On the initial funding granted the proponents of that project, Adebola said, “With about N500 million, one should be able to go so far in telemedicine. For me, the emphasis would have been on mobile telemedicine.”
He, however, noted that a sense of ownership among stakeholders must be created for telemedicine to grow to its potential in Nigeria. 
Former minister of Health, Prof. Babatunde Oshotimehin, during an interview with Daily Independent stated that the Federal Ministry of Health has a Telemedicine desk it hopes to develop to full capacity, saying, “We are aware of the fact that Telemedicine has the ability to spread out good health delivery to many parts of the country in very short time, hence we are out to develop its potential for the benefit of the people.” 
Telemedicine involves medical information transfer from one site to another through electronic communications to improve patient’s health care. It is actively deployed in diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions ranging from simple to complex ones. 
Telemedicine may be as simple as two medical professionals discussing a case over the telephone, or as advanced as using video teleconferencing systems. 
eHealth on the other hand is healthcare practice supported by electronic processes and communication. 
At the 2009 Telemedicine conference held in Lagos, the Federal ministry of health disclosed its readiness to establish a national coordinating mechanism to coordinate eHealth activities in the country in accordance with the World Health Organisation (WHO) resolution passed in 2005. 
The Minister then promised that the Ministry would establish a national eHealth committee to work on developing a policy framework for wider implementation in the nation’s health sector.
The minister who took cognizance of the rapid growth in mobile telephony which had over 67 million users then, projected that mobile health (mHealth) would become an economic tool to drive eHealth activities in Nigeria. 
“eHealth is an option for Nigerians to remedy the human resources for health crises, failing health systems and facilities, inaccessibility and non-affordability of existing services to the poor and vulnerable in the rural areas,” Osotimehin stated. 
Less than one year after, he was removed as minister of health, although it could not be ascertained if the health ministry is carrying on with the inittiative neither could it be said that the project under the Science and Tech ministry is still alive. 
Prior to that time, Suburban West Africa had implemented a telemedicine project using teleconferencing technology in Nigeria. The project started with a conference between the National Hospital in Abuja and National Sickle Cell Foundation in Lagos, featuring a live diagnostic session between a 13-year old sickle cell patient in Lagos and medical consultants in Abuja. 
As a follow up, the government of Nigeria and India entered a collaboration that was intended to enable medical doctors and related specialists in Nigeria to collaborate with each other and other practitioners around the world to tackle health and medical issues.
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