RWANDA – According to an in-depth report from the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development working group, uptake of digital health care has increased rapidly across Africa during the COVID-19 pandemic with many countries embracing hybrid virtual and in-person services.
The Broadband Commission, co-chaired by the World Health Organization and the Novartis Foundation, has launched a report that outlines the critical actions needed to ensure COVID-19-driven surge in virtual health and care drives health access and equity in Africa.
The report titled “The Future of Health and Care – driving access and equity through inclusive policies” explains that virtual health solutions are those that seek to keep people healthy while care solutions treat those who are already sick, stressing that the use of both surged during the pandemic.
The recent Broadband Report has called on African countries to introduce comprehensive digital health policies to ensure their entire populations can benefit from the surge in hybrid health systems that combine virtual and in person services.
Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, the use of virtual health and care was popular in Rwanda where a third of Rwanda’s adult population was signed up to the country’s national teleconsultation service.
“As some population groups may have less access to mobile phones and internet or lower levels of digital literacy, countries have to ensure inclusive and equitable policy making to further integrate virtual services into their overall health systems,” the report highlighted.
African policymakers have been urged to make sure their health systems are fully integrating virtual services to support inclusive and equitable access for all since healthcare providers intend to continue using virtual health after the COVID-19 pandemic has eased.
The Broadband Report has encouraged health decision makers to act promptly to prevent digital divides from increasing health inequities including formulation of strategies focused on data security and patient privacy to build equitable access to health and care.
The report revealed that many unnecessary restrictions on virtual health and care were brushed away amid the pandemic, noting that regulations on inter-state licensing and restrictions on reimbursements for teleconsultations hampered roll-out in the initial wave in the United States.
The report disclosed that Ghana and Rwanda had established national frameworks for use of e-health which meant they could rapidly scale up when COVID-19 struck, adding use of virtual health and care is crucial in transformations in health and care delivery.
“Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, the use of virtual health and care was popular in Rwanda where a third of Rwanda’s adult population was signed up to the country’s national teleconsultation service. As we emerge from the pandemic, there is a clear momentum for policymakers around the globe to build on to further digitize health and care delivery,” the research details.
The Broadband Report has urged more countries to develop coherent frameworks to ensure virtual health services work effectively alongside in-person care while pointing out that people who need help to access or navigate virtual health services require targeted attention.
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