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East Africa’s Health Sector Goes Digital, With Next Epidemic Alert a Click Away

East African Community member states are closer to having an integrated e-health regional information network to identify, confirm and respond rapidly to outbreaks of international ramifications.

Following the Bujumbura Ministerial discussion in September to discuss the establishment of the network, the use of ICT in the health sector has been intensified to disseminate information on the outbreak of communicable diseases such as cholera, Rift Valley Fever and H1N1.

Donald Charwe, acting Commissioner for Social Welfare in Tanzania's Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, said the country was now talking with other partner states of the Community about integrating of their respective national disease-information communications networks to ease the exchange of knowledge on deadly diseases with far reaching life and business implications.

Charwe said that an electronic network, the "EAC Regional Integrated eHealth Management System" is being formulated as an outcome of the Bujumbura Ministerial discussion. "Partner states have been urged to develop and harmonise electronic early warning and rapid response systems for communicable disease outbreaks and fast-track the regional e-health system," he said. E-health is a relatively recent term for healthcare best practices, that are supported by electronic processes and communication.

Dr Grace Saguti, a World Health Organisation official in Tanzania, said it is possible to interconnect the available national e-health networks in the region. Dr Saguti said the ministry responsible for health and livestock in the country already have operational e-health informatics networks that can be modified to become regional.

According to Dr Saguti, the country's Ministry of Health and Social Welfare uses the Zain network to communicate locally available information on infant mortality and pregnancy-related deaths and disorders from far flung areas to head offices in Dar es Salaam.

"Receivers and senders of the information include district health officials, regional health officials and the head offices at Dar es Salaam.The network will use e-health experts to keep governments and the public in the region constantly alert to the threat of outbreaks and ready to respond. It will contribute towards regional health security by combating the cross-border spread of outbreaks, ensuring that appropriate technical assistance reaches affected areas rapidly, and contributing to long-term epidemic preparedness and capacity building.

The East African

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