One fo the major highlights on the local medical calendar is the annual Zimbabwe Medical Association (ZIMA) congress.
This year doctors from across the country converged at the Elephant Hills Resort in Vic Falls for this event which was held under the theme – The Medical Practice in Zimbabwe: The next 5 years.
The next 5 years pose new challenges. There is the rising threat of ZIKA virus. There’s also the rise of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and cancer. However, it also presents new strategies such as the use of ICT for health-related purposes.
Speaker after speaker delved into the work they are doing, the challenges they are facing as well as what needs to be done for the future.
Sitting through the presentations with an eHealth state of mind, I picked up ways in which ICT could intervene and make an impact.
By now many of us should be aware that the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of ICT are conducting a joint telemedicine pilot in Manicaland province.
After that is concluded we can expect to see more remote clinics in other provinces being connected. The private sector is also awakening to telemedicine.
Therefore we can expect to see more initiatives. Africom, for example, is introducing the ECG dongle. This allows remote monitoring of heart electrical activity. This is an example of telecardiology.
Other telemedicine modalities that we can expect because of their relative ease to set up, are telepathology and teleradiology. With most specialists still concentrated in Harare, it will be most helpful if digital images of X-rays and microscope slides could be sent to them for diagnosis.
Speaking in Harare last year, Prof Yunkap Kwankam, Director of Global eHealth Consultants, recommended that we actively transform health professionals into eHealth professionals. The next 5 years will see a rise in the number of doctors of this caliber.
Our medical students of today are using digital textbooks, utilizing quick clinical reference mobile apps and learning through medical tutorial videos on YouTube!
The UZ College of Health Sciences is also setting up live online conference facilities that will enable students to be taught by professors is some of the top colleges in the United States.
Considering all this we can therefore, expect the doctor of tomorrow to be one who is accustomed to applying ICT solutions in solving local healthcare problems.
Did you know that at Parirenyatwa Hospital, there are doctors doing open heart surgery and corrective spinal surgery? These are services that many people have had to take their loved ones to South Africa and India for!
Oncologists at Parirenyatwa are also using multi-million dollar state of art cancer radiotherapy equipment, making Zimbabwe the envy of other countries on the continent.
The reason why you and the rest of the world might not know about this is because advertising of professional health services in Zimbabwe is a tightly regulated area.
However, that is changing. The Health Professions Authority submitted a draft for a new health advertising policy that will allow and guide doctors on the use of online platforms for advertising.
As the initiatives at Parirenyatwa hospital develop into centers of excellence we can expect to host regional and then international medical tourists.
Heath promotion and disease prevention
Professor G.I. Muguti who is Zimbabwe’s top authority in surgery expressed the problem of late presentation with regards to breast cancer. Too many women are being identified when the cancer has already reached an advanced stage.
This is where ICT can come in! ICT has the power to disseminate health information straight into the hands of the public. Via the mobile phone, we can promote early detection and intervention of breast cancer. This is a more effective strategy than putting up billboards and handing out fliers.
Dr. Marowa from the National AIDS Council, also called for the uptake and use of medical technologies and advances in the HIV/AIDS response particularly to cut down the rate of new infections.
Social media is currently the vehicle of political campaigns. In the future,we can expect to see more of it being used for health campaigns.
The ZIMA congress has a ‘Young Scientists‘ section devoted to allowing budding researchers to present their research. They presented research on issues such as low birth weight infants and prevention of mother to child transmission of HIV.
With an e-Health state of mind, I could not help but notice how their surveys and studies could have been made a lot easier if electronic health records were being used.
The Ministry of Health installed the DHIS2 as the national health management information system. Several players in the private sector are also migrating to eHealth records. This will catalyze health research in the coming years.
In another way, the next 5 years will see more research being conducted on the impact of eHealth strategies on various health issues. At the ZIMA congress, Dr Brighton Chireka (DocBeeCee) shared results of the Canadian Champlain B.A.S.E study that showed that eConsult improved access to specialist care for patients with chronic pain.
e-Health is a philosophy
It’s a way of thinking. It’s looking at the wide scope of health issues from a vantage point that affords one to discover ways in which things could be done in a faster and less costly way that can reach more people.
For instance, this year’s ZIMA congress was live streamed for the first time in history! This allowed doctors in Chinhoyi, Banket, Kwekwe and Bulawayo to join in on the sessions happening in Victoria Falls!
It can be very hard to find a specialist Doctor, physiotherapist or a dietician in Zimbabwe by yourself. CheckUp, which was one of the exhibitors at the congress, is a startup that is working to solve this by enabling people to essentially ‘shop’ for health care.
What will the next 5 years of Medical practice in Zimbabwe be like? Whatever it will be, it has to be better than today. We surely can’t continue like this. Let’s build the future we want through innovation.