The norm at most health centres in Uganda is arriving and getting registered in a book. After paying for consultation, the patient is given a receipt to go and see the doctor. Usually, the next step is the laboratory so the doctor again writes a laboratory request note that you carry. Ordinarily, you first pay for the laboratory tests and get receipts before proceeding.  Results are again written down and you have to carry these back to the doctor.
Ideally, the process might end here with the doctor writing a prescription that you have to carry to the cashier’s office where you pay, are given a receipt and you proceed to the pharmacy for the drugs. However, the doctor might decide to order for further tests basing on the results or, he might refer the patient. By the time a patient leaves hospital, s/he has a minimum of 8 documents.

This whole process of paperwork during health service delivery is likely to stop in the near future according to Prof Nazarius Mbona of Makerere University School of Public Health (MakSPH). Prof Mbona was speaking at the launch of the Master of Health Informatics (MHI) programme that took place on May 28th, 2018 at Makerere University Guest House. MHI is a postgraduate eHealth program that was started with the purpose of easing and speeding up information flow in health service delivery. Prof Mbona says that with this course, issues like lots of paper work that usually cause delays in the delivery of health services will be a thing of the past. With eHealth, scenarios where it takes 12 hours or more to relay information to the Minister of Health say, about a stock-out of drugs or a disease outbreak will be quickened.

“Go make a difference”-Dean MakSPH implores MHI students

Speaking at the colourful ceremony, the Dean of MakSPH, Assoc Prof Rhodah Wanyenze called upon the Guest of Honour who was the Minister of ICT and National Guidance, Hon Frank Tumwebaze, to support the students in coming up with competitive innovations that address challenges in real life.

“Hon Minister, we need to complement the support we have got from our partners. Quite often we get this but it is usually time bound. I don’t know how many more years we have for Hi Train that is supporting this program but quite often, we are left hanging when we don’t have input from government and sustainable mechanisms,” she said.

She also encouraged Makerere University College of Health Sciences (CHS) which is implementing this program in partnership with Makerere University College of Computing and Information Systems (CoCIS) to keep improving the MHI program.

“There are still a lot of gaps in ICT in health. As we increasingly use technology to do business even in research, there are a number of gaps so as you go out, pay attention to this and let us work together with the MoH to address these gaps as well as re-inforcing the implementation of policies,” she added.

Prof Rhoda also called upon the students to go out there and make a difference by coming up with different innovations.

“We are so good at accumulating papers but please make a difference. If you target to make innovations that make a difference, you won’t worry about getting a job and you’re actually going to help us market this program so that other people who come after you will be much sought after.”

In her final remarks, Prof Rhoda was excited that CHS and CoCIS were working together to deliver a joint training programme. She thanked CDC for the initial input into the designing of the MHI curriculum.

Government should support university research

The Principal of Makerere, Prof Charles Ibingira informed the audience that negotiations are already underway with NIH (National Institutes for Health) for CHS to establish a centre for big data which will be the first in Uganda or the whole region.

“The future is in big data and artificial intelligence and robotics,” he said.

He also pointed out that it is time the government starts to invest in higher education the same way it is doing with Universal Primary and Secondary School Education if we are to achieve middle income status as a country.

“Higher education is what stimulates development and other countries invest a lot in it. Efforts should be turned to higher education so that the talent we have at Makerere can actually be turned into products that can drive a country. We talk of middle income status and the people to do that are here but they are not being supported. The knowledge that Makerere attracts comes from the cream of the country. Looking at our colleges, we may have programs that are innovative but we don’t have the funding,” Prof Ibingira said while asking Hon Tumwebaze to be an ally of the university that can convince government about this issue.

He also noted that while the university is doing a good job of fighting for international grants, these grants usually target global health and are not tailored to address the local challenges in Uganda. He explained that if the government set some money aside, “we can provide solutions for our systems.”

Assoc Prof Eria Hisali on behalf of the Vice Chancellor and the Deputy Vice Chancellor

Reading the speech of the Deputy Vice Chancellor-Finance, Prof William Bazeyo, at the function Assoc Prof Eria Hisali, the Principal of College of Business and Management Studies (CoBAMS) who represented him said the university has so far given the MHI program all the support it requires.

“The university attaches a very strong importance to the program that is why we gave it all the support it required. To the students, administrators of the program, the Principal Investigators and the co- Principal Investigators, we have a duty to maintain the standards of the program. The investigators have done a very good job in formulating a good curriculum but the students have an even bigger role of identifying where there are gaps so that we keep improving.”

Hisali also said that the university council remains committed to putting in place a framework that enables innovations like the MHI program to come up and thrive. As an example, council made a decision in the recent past that if such innovations come up, they will be allowed to retain 80% of the revenue generated.

Reading from the VC’s remarks, Hisali who was also him pointed out that developing a curriculum is a very tedious process which involves seeking approvals from departments, the school, the college, relevant committees of senate, senate itself, council and all through to the national council of higher education.

“Plans are underway, I am told to have us even seek approvals from the Ministry of Finance and Planning to be sure that they are able to support the program that’s why  thank colleagues from CoCIS and CHS for a job well done,” Hisali said.

 He thanked the directors of the program, Prof Nabukenya and Prof Mbona, and the development partners.

“To our stakeholders of the MHI program, we consulted you and continue to consult you. We also thank you for supporting us by providing places of internship and many toher things. Like MoH, UNICEF, KCCA, TASO, WHO, National Drug Authority, and Public Health Laboratories,” Hisali said.

Government has Shs 50b for innovations-Hon Tumwebaze

Hon Tumwebaze assured the audience that he will get his ministry to partner and support the university.

“We are supporting tech hubs around the country and this (Makerere University) can be taken as one of our tech hubs,” the Minister said.

He added that government has put up a Shs 50b fund for innovation under the Ministry of Science and Technology and that his ministry had received Shs 13b of this money which is being used to build an innovation hub in Nakawa. Innovators will have free working space to work on their innovations at this centre.

 Hon Tumwebaze also committed to connect the university to Prof Elioda Tumwesigye who heads the Ministry of Science and Technology, in case they have some quick win innovations that can be shown to clearly solve challenges.

However, Hon Tumwebaze informed the audience that he has been finding challenges with some of the innovations at different exhibitions in the country that the directors of the MHI program could help with.

“We need to link you to all the ehealth innovations in Uganda so that you are able to come up with some standardizations. Sometimes you find some of these solutions say, in records management or detecting pneumonia, and they are all duplicating each other. You go to one exhibition and it is there and also at another exhibition. We need to assign this role to one central judge the same way you find National Council of Higher Education (NCHE) determining and computing necessary academic documents,” he said.

Secondly, “we need to make sure that the innovations are not simply used to compete and win funding from donors and government but I believe that a course like MHI can help us to answer questions of quality and rule out cases of half-baked innovations.”

The minister thanked the Vice Chancellor of the university, Prof Barnabas Wangwe for the current stability at the university. He also thanked NORAD (Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation) which supports this program through NORHED (Norwegian Programme for Capacity Development in Higher Education and Research for Development).

“We also thank development partners like Moi University and the University of Bergen with whom Makerere University wrote a successful proposal for this program that was granted under the HiTrain project.”

About the MHI Programme

The MHI is a postgraduate program which combines expertise in medical-related fields like medicine and pharmacy, and IT realted fields like computer science. The first cohort has 19 students while the second has 25. All except 4 students are private. For research, the project Hi Train is going to fund 75 students.

 

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