The UK should give increased emphasis to the use of ICT and other new technologies in improving health and health services in developing countries, according to Lord Crisp, the former NHS chief executive.

In a Global Health Partnerships report, Crisp suggests that new technology and approaches are not yet being seen as central to international development and more needs to be done to encourage local entrepreneurs to use ICT to improve health services themselves.

He writes: “International agencies in developing countries are already working with commercial organisations in ‘emerging markets’ to provide investment in, for example, medicines, technology and infrastructure.

“There needs to be a parallel emphasis on supporting entrepreneurial activity at the very local level, improving health as well as helping people out of poverty.”

The report acknowledges that ICT and telemedicine are already beginning to have some impact in developing countries. 

One example cited include the Swinfen Charitable Trust which offers free medical advice based on images they receive from a digital camera in a medical centre.  Another example cited was Computer Aid which provides re-furbished computer hardware. 

The report also raises concerns about limitations on the use of ICT: “Broadband is still not widespread and is frequently of low density, suitable only for text and not images. Computers are not robust, maintenance is difficult, satellite expensive. In the health sector alone, the WHO has estimated that 50% of technology imported from developed countries is unused in developing countries simply because there has not been any training.

“An unpublished paper, prepared for the Global Health Workforce Alliance, has shown that where there are a wide variety of modalities for communication available – paper, phone, fax, video, email, discs and DVDs – there is still a tendency to make most use of the traditional means and least of the new.”

Despite these, Crisp believes that the potential of ICT for the future, as knowledge and experience grows, appears to be enormous – as soon as people in developing countries are trained to understand the benefits such technology can bring.

“I recommend the UK should give increased emphasis to the use of ICT and other new technologies in improving health and health services in developing countries through bringing the innovators in digital technology and its application to health together with experienced development professionals to understand the potential impacts and work with international partners to pilot and evaluate applications,” Crisp said.

He added that he would like to see an eBay-style website, called Global Health Exchange, established so developing countries can advertise the need for certain resources.

The report’s main focus is calling on the UK to do more to help support the health systems in developing countries as south-east Asian and African nations are struggling to tackle disease due to a shortage of health workers and equipment.

The UK already contributes over £1bn a year to Africa for health and education excluding regular charity collections. Crisp believes a more co-ordinated approach is needed and NHS hospitals should offer redundant equipment to these countries.

Links

Global Health Partnerships report

Swinfen Charitable Trust

Computer Aid