The National Department of Health (NDoH) has released the official mHealth Strategy 2015-2019 that outlines the government’s mHealth vision for South Africa.

The aim of the mHealth Strategy is to provide a single, harmonised and comprehensive strategy and implementation plan that supports the priorities of the health sector; addresses and meets the needs of individuals, providers of health care services, managers and policy makers; and paves the way for future public sector mHealth requirements.

According to Minister of Health, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, the 20-page document is intended to promote the coordination of existing mHealth programmes in the country, and contribute to the creation of an enabling environment for the implementation of National Health Insurance (NHI).

“The evolution of the Mobile Technology Platform provides an opportunity to deliver improved health services to the population of South Africa,” said Dr Motsoaledi.

“Linked to the objectives of the eHealth Strategy, the mHealth Strategy focuses on leveraging the existing mobile footprint to amongst others; empower patients with information, improve access to health services and real time data management to assist addressing the current inefficiencies in the Health System service delivery,” continued Motsoaledi.

As outlined in the mHealth Strategy, the main challenges facing South African mHealth projects to date have been lack of alignment and integration of the interventions into health plans, strategies and systems; absence of government leadership and coordination; poor documentation and learning from best practices; lack of use of open source options; absence of practical approaches to privacy and security; lack of interoperability; and absence of a single framework within which to evaluate the role of mHealth and eHealth tools in strengthening the health system.

The mHealth Strategy aims to address these challenges by providing a single, harmonised and comprehensive mHealth implementation plan. The mHealth Strategy outlines eleven base projects and activities that should form the basis of a practical and specific implementation plan.

These include setting up an open and transparent repository of mHealth projects using a common framework; providing guidelines to implementers for development of messaging/mHealth materials; providing a master patient index (MPI); and coordinating a participatory forum with all mHealth partners and stakeholders, among others.

“The mHealth Strategy recognises the dynamics of building on public private partnerships (PPPs) and coordinating the efforts across mHealth partners and stakeholders,” said Director General of Health, Malebona Precious Matsoso.

“The mHealth Strategy provides us with an opportunity to guide us from the current status to an environment where mobile solution providers conform to a set of normative standards that will ensure data collection is unified. This will benefit monitoring public health programme implementation and operational functioning of the health services. The strategy adopts a set of principles which include getting the basics right, taking an incremental approach, building on what already exists and looking for early wins,” continued Matsoso.

The mHealth Strategy closes with an mHealth roadmap outlining key activities and outputs for the ten priority areas in the eHealth Strategy. These include strategy and leadership; stakeholder engagement; standards and interoperability; governance and regulation; investment, affordability and sustainability; benefits realisation; capacity and workforce; eHealth and mHealth foundations; applications and tools to support healthcare delivery; and monitoring and evaluation of the mHealth Strategy.

The mHealth Strategy was developed by a team of officials from the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA), Department of Science and Technology (DST), Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA), Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services (DTPS), Medical Research Council (MRC) in constant consultation with the National Health Information Systems Committee of South Africa (NHIS/SA) under the leadership from NDoH.

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