Technology aids in corona battle

A nurse in protective gear at Mbagathi Hospital, Nairobi. FILE PHOTO | NMG

With the first few cases of coronavirus detected in the country, unprecedented public health measures have been put in place. The closure of schools, working from home and limited movements due to self-imposed quarantine to those suspicious of having come into contact with positive cases means a whole new order of health delivery is created.

For one, normal hospital visits for non-covid related cases will not stop. How do we ensure care for those seeking routine visits for malaria, hypertension, HIV care amongst others is not interrupted? Secondly, with an increased number of people in self-quarantine, there is need to create linkages.

Going forward and taking lessons from other countries facing the Covid crisis, technology in healthcare is going to play a big role. This in particular given our skewed health workers' distribution.

Below are four recommendations on alternative approaches towards supporting hospitals by linking patients and those with concerns with health workers. Contact tracing and mapping of potential cases as well as emergency transportation and medical care.

Telemedicine, though a relatively old technology will for once have an opportunity to prove it's potential as an adjunct to mainstream healthcare.

Dr Charles Kamotho, founder of DaktariAfrica one such platform, says crowded places like hospital waiting rooms are a concern particularly for those with pre-existing conditions like diabetes and hypertension seeking care whose risk if infected with the covid virus is heightened.

For such groups, telemedicine is an alternative care pathway especially for routine visits and medication follow up. With most contacts quarantined in-house and potentially living alone, home care service providers also have an opportunity to rise up to the calling. Linking these up with telemedicine can help those unable to get to hospital to still access some care.

Once the patient-doctor engagement is done, online pharmacy platforms like mydawa, goodlife, Livia are essential for logistical bodies. The greatest crisis arising from the now declared pandemic is resource distribution. Dr Kamotho says hospitals should be supported to deflate anon-urgent care to telemedicine platforms.

As the virus predominantly affects lungs, majority of patients admitted end up having need for oxygen. The current oxygen gas market is still not very well grounded and most health facilities lack it as an emergency drug. In one survey, up to 67percent of health centres lacked oxygen. On the private sector, this statistic is even worse at the small clinics.

At the health centres, our first point of contact for patients, referrals are due to lack of continuous oxygen supplementation therapy and equipment. The irony is that the cost of ambulance referral is more than oxygen therapy.

In the next few weeks, oxygen gas manufacturers must be supported to increase production as well as distribute this essential commodity to the frontline health workers. If anything is to be gleaned from Europe, oxygen ventilators and associated devices will be needed in adequate quantities.

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