The Government of Tanzania is calling for an end to “pilotitis”—an emphasis on narrowly focused health interventions, small populations, and vertical health programs. Last November, the country made great strides toward this goal and digital transformation with the launch of a new Digital Health Strategy (2019—2024) and a series of systems that will greatly improve coordination between partners in the health sector.
The milestones are part of the Data Use Partnership, an initiative led by the Government of Tanzania with support from PATH that applies a sustainable, holistic approach to digitalize the country’s health system. At the core of these efforts is a commitment to empowering health workers and building a healthier Tanzania.
Strategy sets pace for digital transformation
After a wave of digital health initiatives in the late 1990s and early 2000s, national digital health strategies are a critical tool to help the sector mature from siloed initiatives to aligned systems. They help countries use resources more efficiently, while avoiding fragmentation and facilitating information sharing for better and faster decision-making. As the use of technology in health systems surges and investments pour into the sector, a national health strategy offers guidance and a clear path forward.
“With our new Digital Health Strategy we will coordinate all partners and stakeholders,” explained Tumaniel Macha, the Director of Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) for Tanzania’s Ministry of Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly, and Children (MOHCDGEC). “We’ll have one platform where we discuss, plan, and mobilize resources together to achieve better [health] outcomes.”
Tanzania’s new strategy will play an essential role in guiding the implementation of digital health initiatives, enabling a health system that is patient centric, data driven, and more equitable as a result. It reflects ten high-priority areas that will guide the next five years of digital innovation in the country. These priorities range from strengthening disease surveillance, reporting, and response, to the use of telehealth to build health worker capacity in a changing digital landscape, while providing specialized care to the country’s most remote corners.
The strategy also clearly lays out an implementation plan and develops several governing structures that will oversee activities. These range from a National Digital Health Steering Committee composed of voting members, to health facility digital health committees that will coordinate activities, provide mentorship, and create awareness about digital health.
New systems promise to integrate digital health sector
Along with the new strategy, Tanzania also introduced a series of new digital systems that will accelerate and increase access to better quality, more efficient and effective health care for all Tanzanians.
The Health Initiatives and Systems Inventory, developed under the DUP initiative, will help to achieve Tanzania’s vision for holistic, systematic digital innovation. It is an online repository with visible and up-to-date information about the more than 160 digital health or health-related systems in varying stages of use in Tanzania—ranging from those systems that have scaled at a national level, to those still being piloted in select health facilities and regions.
By providing a record of existing digital systems and initiatives in real time, stakeholders have greater visibility into the digital efforts underway. The inventory will therefore enable better coordination of resources for digital health, more thoughtful program design, and more responsive software development within Tanzania’s digital health ecosystem.
“Too often, we reinvent the wheel or waste precious resources because we don’t know about the other digital systems in use.”— Tumaniel Macha, the Director of M&E for Tanzania’s MOHCDGEC
Tanzania simultaneously rolled out a Health Digital Library that will be equally important for improving Tanzania’s digital ecosystem. It provides a well-organized, searchable library of health sector documents to improve accessibility for stakeholders at different levels. Documents include policies, strategies, guidelines, tools, reports, and health promotion materials.
“Decision makers within Tanzania’s health system can’t make best use of these exciting new digital technologies and platforms if they aren’t aware of them,” explains Tumaniel. “Too often, we reinvent the wheel or waste precious resources because we don’t know about the other digital systems in use across the country. [These new systems] will help us take digital innovation from the proof of concept phase, to performance at scale.”