ICT in Health: Bangladesh Is Moving Ahead

The Daily Star, the famous English daily newspaper in Bangladesh, in association with technology and business partners, organized a two-day leadership colloquium in Dhaka on 6-7 January 2012 on “ICT in Health.” This was the first colloquium of its kind in the country, with both international and national experts discussing the current practice of ICT in health care globally. The global experts further mentioned the Bangladesh’s potential to take the lead in ICT for health among developing nations since it has a proven track record of taking initiative to deliver public health program that successfully reach the unreached. The role of Bangladesh’s government and its partnership with different development partners, private organizations, and NGOs to achieve health related MDG goals is already recognized by global community.

The purpose of the colloquium “ICT in Healthcare” was to assist all parties in Bangladesh in better understanding the possibilities and challenges in the field, and to identify paths forward and opportunities for collaboration. The sessions explored the use of modern communications technology, such as video conferencing, to bring appropriate knowledge to the most remote situation. The latest thinking in health information technology (HIT), telemedicine/telehealth services, and mobile health were presented through professional technical sessions.

The government’s strategic policy guidelines for Digital Bangladesh were highly appreciated by the global and national experts, which is the backbone of transforming traditions to technology. The importance of translating this Digital Bangladesh policy in to action for the health sector was described repeatedly. Indeed, significant progress has already been made by national IT experts and ministry of health and family welfare (MOH&FW) in developing a systematic approach to health IT. Achievements, such as machine-level communications infrastructures, have laid the groundwork for the creation of electronic records and clinical decision support systems. Major progress has also been made in designing ICT-enabled health systems, though they have yet to be applied at any significant level.

A few of the government and NGO initiatives were repeatedly highlights as the potential best practices for using ICT in health, particularly in improving maternal and child health:

In Bangladesh, USAID has catalyzed the formation of a public-private coalition named Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action (MAMA), which supports the development of an innovative health information service utilizing mobile phones to improve maternal and neonatal health outcomes. The commercial brand name to be tested is Aponjon. MAMA Bangladesh is a country-owned, country-led initiative managed by a broad coalition of stakeholders. Through a core group of founding partners, MAMA Bangladesh is designing and testing a platform to provide both audio and text health messages to pregnant women and new mothers linked to their expected/actual delivery date. The service also includes family gatekeepers for inspiring healthcare seeking behavior. Learn more about the use of mobiles in Bangladesh here.

The BRAC Manoshi project empowers community health workers with simple mobile phones for gathering patient information in real time and prioritizing treatments (e.g. for high-risk pregnancies), as well as for early intervention and emergency treatment for complications in delivery through remote consultation from stationed doctors.

The experts at the colloquium further discussed how to accelerate the development and adoption of health ICT in key areas, including some of the following questions:

Consumer Empowerment – How can each citizen, from birth, have a secure, up to date, personal electronic health record (EHR) that they can access anywhere and share with their health providers? EHRs should include basic vital registration data, complaints, laboratory results, procedures, discharges, transfers, referrals and interpretations that are standardised and secure.

Remotely enabling the public and providers with health information — How can the public and lesser-trained health providers access higher levels of expertise without having to take a bus to Dhaka?

Chronic Care – How can we use new remote diagnostic and monitoring devices, messaging, and ICT-organized supervision (including video consults between patients and remote doctors) to treat the coming tidal wave of chronically ill patients, but keep them out of hospitals?

Bio-surveillance – How can we enable the transfer of standardised and anonymous health data from the point of health care delivery to authorised private and public health agencies within 24 hours of its collection?

Medical Malpractice – Safeguarding practices, patients and reputations. How are forward thinking medical professionals improving the quality and profitability of their practices with the use of modern ICT?

The Latest in Video Conferencing – What are the latest in capabilities, costs and uses in the field, from training to patient consultation?

The costs and benefits — What will such systems cost and how will they be paid for? What are the benefits to the leading participants of an ICT-enabled health “eco-system”: citizens, government, health providers, service NGOs, pharmaceuticals, wireless companies, IT companies, others?

Comparing Bangladesh with the rest of South Asia, with the world – What are other developing countries in our region and the world doing? What are the successes to copy and the mistakes to avoid?

At the concluding session the recommendations included the creation of a working group to formulate a policy that empowers the collection of patient data by frontline health workers through ICT, the connection of patients and doctors in case of emergency, and the development of low-cost technology and accessories. Humanyun Kabir, secretary to the health ministry, said the present government has been working to implement its pledge to have a Digital Bangladesh: “The government has taken many initiatives for using ICT in many sectors [though] all results of those initiatives may not be visible at this moment.”