Nigeria has been in the spotlight over the last few weeks since the African Development Bank (AfDB) announced that it’s the wealthiest country on the continent. It has had everyone from Microsoft to Oracle lining up to pledge allegiance to the country and its ICT development. Despite impressive growth, Nigerian healthcare still faces many challenges.
A lack of reliable, adequate power has long been cited as the single largest constraint to development in Nigeria. In a recent interview with Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, Managing Partner of EpiAfric, an organisation working to improve healthcare delivery in the country, he shed light on how the sector is making progress in spite of regular power failures.
He noted a steady increase in the use of simple, inexpensive tablets and notebooks by healthcare workers in their daily tasks. “Battery powered technology is being used by Nigerian healthcare workers as a solution to the lack of infrastructure. Battery powered devices retain power for two hours, which means that during power cuts, healthcare delivery can continue without their workflow being interrupted.”
The use of such ICT is especially effective in home-based care, which according to Dr Ihekweazu is the group of health services experiencing the most growth.
Dr Ihekweazu recognises that although Nigeria is willing to adopt eHealth, harnessing the benefits of ICT is still limited. “Improvements in the storage and retrieval of information are necessary to be able to coordinate care effectively, such as creating a seamless flow of information between doctors, pharmacies, administering nurses and patients.”
A prime issue is that Nigeria’s health sector is extremely fragmented; doctor-led clinics are widely dispersed, and are only slowly being integrated. However, Dr Ihekweazu explained that “as the sector is gradually getting more organised there is a growing demand for more technical support to provide a system that records and stores information about who is providing what care to whom.”
This is one of the main challenges that Nigerian healthcare currently faces; the need for better information infrastructure that’ll improve patients’ access to services. Dr Ihekweazu noted that what Nigeria needs is “an improved infrastructure for knowledge exchange.”