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Strengthening capacities among digital health leaders for the development and implementation of national digital health programs in Nigeria

Discussions on the use of digital health to advance health have continued to gain traction over the past decades. This is important considering the rising penetration of mobile phones and other digital technologies and the opportunity to leverage those digital and electronic health methods and innovations to accelerate Universal Health Coverage (UHC) and the health Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In Nigeria, however, the full benefits of digital technologies to strengthen the health systems are yet to be fully harnessed due to critical challenges in the sector. These challenges include but not limited to weak health systems governance, weak infrastructural investments, inadequate resources, weak human resource capacity, high cost of scaling-up and coordination issues among others. Lack of systems thinking, and design have significant impact on coordination of efforts and has resulted in the fragmentation and non-interoperability among various applications. To discuss these challenges and propose the way forward for rapid sustainable, scalable and cost-effective deployment of digital health in Nigeria, a digital health capacity development workshop was held in Abuja and across the six geo-political zones of Nigeria from 20th – 30th November 2019. This paper documents key conclusions and achievements at the workshop.

The workshop was organized around eleven modules and seven thematic areas which explored the Nigerian digital health governance and coordinating mechanisms in view of its status, leadership, financing and deployment for effective service delivery. It was attended by over 100 participants from varied background including Ministries of Health, Ministries of Communications and Digital Economy, International Organizations, Operators, Civil Society, Academia and Private Sector Experts.

The workshop resolved that while digital health technologies offer profound opportunities to strengthen Nigerian health systems for UHC and the health SDGs, there should be a move from donor-driven pilot projects to robust, sustainable, cost-effective and nationally owned projects. This will involve a people-centered approach that should be demand-driven and not supply-driven to avoid wasting time on ineffective interventions, duplication of efforts and wastage of scarce health resources. Government ownership and leadership was identified as critical for sustainable financing and effective scale up of Digital Health projects in Nigeria.

The DH capacity development workshop was a good forum to deliberate important issues regarding sustainable and cost-effective DH solutions that could be scaled to strengthen health service delivery in Nigeria. Insightful ideas for scaling DH in Nigeria and other related settings emanated from the workshop, necessitating the need for a focused government commitment and leadership in institutionalizing digital health in Nigeria.

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Journal Article
Ibeneme S
Ukor N
Ongom M
Dasa T
Muneene D
Okeibunor J
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BMC Proceedings
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