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How open data platforms for polio were leveraged to fight COVID-19 in Africa

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Omnia Health Live Africa speakers looked at today's innovations shaping healthcare across the continent.

How digital health and technology can strengthen healthcare around the African continent 

In a discussion moderated by Manish Kohli MD, Senior Advisor - Albright Stonebridge Group, Sanjana Bhardwaj, MD, Chief of Health and HIV - UNICEF Nigeria, and Prof. S. Yunkap Kwankam, Ph.D., CEO of Global eHealth Consultants looked at how technology and digital health is changing the course of healthcare in Africa. 

Prof Yunkap shared three innovative projects that he was working on in healthcare. The first, a telemedicine platform, is in the process of running through a joint venture in South Africa (with an investor company). 

The second is supporting Zimbabwe's Ministry of Health and UNDP in the development of a national digital health strategy, while the third through the International Society for Telemedicine and eHealth, aims to bring a global knowledge commons to fruition.

Dr Sanjana Bhardwaj revealed that while UNICEF has access to considerable health data, “everything under the sun”, including where facilities are located, performance and indicators, it’s not possible to change the trajectory of results for women, children and communities without other sectors playing a role.   

To enable more efficient resourcing planning and prioritisation, UNICEF is currently working with Nigeria state governments and state department for planning and research and statistics is to develop a portal that has health data with schools and water points plotted in too.  

Dr Bhardwaj added that the GIP mapping and data collection systems from community level upwards, that had been originally developed to fight polio, were quickly and easily leveraged in Nigeria’s COVID-19 response.  
 
She explained that through the data sample a better understanding was developed around transportation systems and mechanisms – where the bottlenecks are for example – and preparedness by facility, for example checklists completed for oxygen and commodities. Efforts are ongoing to see how this platform can be made more sustainable, not only for a further national outbreak response, but beyond.  

On examples of innovation cases studies that can provide lessons for the rest of the continent, Prof Yunkap referred to a startup hub in Cameroon named Silicon Mountain (referring to a physical mountain in the area), that began around the University of Buea and that now attracts innovators. To nurture technology and innovation, he added, "we're looking for movements that lift the entire economy."

Dr Bhardwaj, in agreement, named the need for an enabling environment to “think differently”. In South Africa she was part of an initiative, MomConnect Programme, started by UNICEF in two facilities.

Major potential across Africa had been identified early on. The system and lessons from the pilot were adapted to a bigger scale, and it became one of the largest programmes for reaching pregnant women all over the country. 

As a further example of its impact, MomConnect was adapted in Uganda to become FamilyConnect - the same concept but expanded to include family. 

She also highlighted the enormous impact of the phone in empowering people across the continent. UNICEF’s U-Report is actioned through text messaging; people sign up and polls are sent out, and through responses it's possible to obtain the pulse on the ground (and tailor messaging accordingly). 

Workshop: Key role of a “healthy” health sector in sustainable economic development

This engaging session was led by Hon. Dr Osagie Ehanire MD, Minister of Health - Federal Ministry of Health, Nigeria, who said that COVID-19 has had a far-reaching economic impact on the normal life in the country. But it has also given the nation the opportunity to improve its healthcare system. “COVID-19 showed us that a country is socially and economically healthy only if its citizens are healthy. The relationship between growth on one hand in investment on the other will boost the economy. Our mission is to ensure the availability of affordable and quality healthcare for all citizens,” he said.

While Dr Olusoji O. Adeyi, Senior Advisor for Human Development, World Bank Group, shed light on the role of health in the West African economic growth agenda. He said that the region faces a combined burden of maternal-child health, infectious diseases and non-communicable diseases.

“The economic impacts of COVID-19 in Africa have led to growth in sub-Saharan Africa to fall to -3.3 per cent in 2020,” he highlighted. “There is an increasing need to manage chaos, increase practical local production of critical equipment and supplies by expanding supply capacity, understand supply constraints and incentivize suppliers.”

The need for collaboration during the pandemic has uncovered the power of partnership that will change the demographics and life expectancy, according to panellist Dr Amit Thakker, Chairman, Africa Healthcare Federation. It’s only those countries, he said, that had institutional partnerships were able to save more of their citizens through e-learning, supply chain, telemedicine etc.

“We stand proud as a continent in front of the globe since we started early. We must learn and share with each in order to build a robust healthcare sector. Africans can learn from Africa, and this is the time for us to make an investment into a trusted partnership between the public and private sector,” he added.

Ensuring safety in the CSSD, no matter if it’s in a resource-restricted environment or a fancy hospital, apply the principles

At the panel, Dr Georgia Alevizopoulou, Senior Manager, Clinical & Education - STERIS Infection Prevention Technologies, stressed that “One can clean without sterilising, but one cannot sterilise without cleaning.”

She explained that cleaning in CSSD is the process of removing contamination from an item or surgical instrument to the extent necessary for its further processing and intended subsequent use. Contamination is also referred to as soil, which includes organic and inorganic materials such as blood, tissue, saliva, salts, gels etc. The presence of soil can lead to an adverse event such as toxicity in patients. This cleaning can be done manually, semi-manually or as a combination of both.

Stephen M Kovach, Educator, Healthmark Industries, explained that there are two important things in this process of manual cleaning – friction and fluid. Friction involves rubbing and scrubbing the soiled area with a brush and is an old and dependable method. But you also need the fluids to remove the debris.

While cleaning of instruments is important, it is essential for healthcare workers to do it while ensuring their safety, said Adele Colyn, Regional Infection Prevention and Control Manager – Netcare. Therefore, they must be provided with protective attire (PPE) for the tasks being performed.

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