A network which will focus on ICT for Health - known as Afya Mtandao (Swahili for Health Network) - was officially launched on January 31st 2008 in Mwanza, Tanzania. The network unites Tanzanian health workers and promotes the use of ICT in the health sector by providing a knowledge-sharing platform for health workers, raising awareness if ICT in the health sector and providing ICT support services for health institutions.
Sponsored by the International Institute for Communication and Development (IICD), the network is open to all health sector stakeholders in the region. It is also working in close collaboration with the Christian Social Services Commission (CSSC) in the process of being registered and becoming an independent organisation in June 2008. This development also comes in tandem with the launch of a dedicated web portal, to be found at www.afyamtandao.org.
Launching the network
Doctors in charge of Faith based Organization (FBOs) hospitals in four regions Mwanza, Mara, Shinyanga and Kagera attended the launch workshop. The main objectives of the workshop, besides the launch, were to present Afya Mtandao; to discuss ICT tools and their use to improve the internal and external knowledge sharing of hospitals and to assess the information and communication needs of hospitals.
The issues were addressed actively and many participants showed an interest in a continued collaborative relationship with Afya Mtandao. Organised into working focus groups, participants discussed topics including ICT support and training, Telemedicine, E-learning, Change Management to the challenges surrounding the introduction of an Hospital Management Information Systems (HMIS).
Sharing vital experiences
During the workshop, it became clear that some of the Doctors have already started to apply Telemedicine. A concrete example is from Dr.Leonard Washington, a Medical Officer in charge of Biharamulo hospital in Kagera region. Unexpectedly, one day he found himself applying telemedicine, when he was operating a baby. Within the process he found something abnormal, that he had never seen before, he decided to communicate with a Specialist Doctor from Tanzania National Hospital Muhimbili through mobile phone, using a headset. The specialist recognised the problem and began to direct him step-by-step. In the end, the operation was thankfully a success. But of significant importance is that they succeeded in solving the problem without having to transfer the patient over miles to another distant hospital.
Being able to interact and question the doctor about his experience has had an enormous impact on the group. Many of the health workers are now buzzing with excitement about the potential of telemedicine for the region. It can bring specialist help to the remote hospitals without requiring face to face contact between patient and doctor. Mr. Dotto Bulendu, director of Radio SAUT Mwanza, who attended workshop, sees Telemedicine as “key” to saving lives. It reduces the currently huge financial burden of finding and receiving expert care, which in many cases is foregone due to financial constraints.
Afya Mtandao is focusing on the Lake Zone as the pilot area for the project, but aims to scale up and cover the remaining parts of Tanzania in the near future.