Experts have revealed that limited funding for innovations is a big barrier to the development of a resilient digital healthcare system in Uganda.
Speaking during the two-day 4th Annual Health Innovations Conference at Kampala Serena Hotel on Monday, the experts revealed that digital health innovations are costly and require a lot of financial support from government and partners.
Chris Lukolyo, the Digital County Lead from the United Nations Capital Development Fund. (UNCDF), noted that at times financers struggle with overly risky innovations because there is no proven concept, no data collected and research, which makes it hard for innovators to get funders.
“Therefore, with our work we have been able to gather information and viability, efficiency and acceptance within communities and these are all aspects that any new innovation has to deal with before a bank can extend a loan to the innovator with a new idea, concept or application they need to able to understand that idea and its viability as a business. It’s acceptance within the communities and its sustainability,” he said.
Lukolyo added that because of such challenges, UNCDF is focusing on improving access to finance and making it impactful.
“We work with partners to make sure that we can demonstrate the utility of these innovations so that we can attract others to come in and support because you need to do that to achieve sustainability. The good thing is there is an enabling policy by the government of Uganda because that too contributes to sustainability,” he explained.
US Ambassador Natalie E. Brown also said there is a need to embrace innovations in the health care system because it’s the way to go.
She noted such conferences are a valuable opportunity to collectively take stock of what is being innovated in different spheres and share experiences that will ultimately improve the quality of care that can be provided in Uganda.
“All of us benefit daily from innovations in technology and the creative solutions which put these innovations at our fingertips. A great example is the adaptation of multimedia communication tools for fast and efficient communications on health. Look at WhatsApp and its competitors. It is amazing how these platforms have been used to communicate on COVID-19 and now Ebola, in some cases “leapfrogging” over more standard approaches. These innovations make us more effective and more efficient while legacy tools including email, phone calls and face-to-face interactions like we have today remain important,” she said.
She noted that costs of these innovations present a greater challenge to universal access to health services, especially to vulnerable and geographically inaccessible populations who most need to benefit from these innovations.
“More pleasing perhaps is the fact that you will also be exploring frameworks for the adoption of innovations as well as strengthening partnerships and collaborations for resilient healthcare systems. This will enable us to extend the benefits of these innovations to more people, at a lower cost, and at the appropriate scale. Equity, cost savings and prevention should be our priority. As we explore and come up with many commendable innovations, they are not always available equally across populations due to issues with cost and access,” she said.
Dr Andrew Kambugu, the Executive Director of of Infectious Disease Institute, however, revealed that currently the government is funding innovation at Makerere University and through it a lot has been reached. He, however, noted that the information gap between the innovators and the end users of the innovated product is still big.
“Innovations must be people-centred because one has to meet people’s needs. We can do this by harnessing the information systems like how MPEESA has changed the finance and information system in Kenya. Health care has an opportunity to change this, like these phones,” he said.
“Currently, Uganda needs to encourage investments and new ideas. High-level national leadership is required to strengthen the innovation pipeline. Equity and inclusiveness are crucial as well,” he added.
The Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of ICT, Dr Amina Zawedde, thanked the innovators for coming together to make an impact in the health sector.
“We sincerely appreciate the innovators who answered the invitation to participate in HIC 2022. This conference would not have taken place at all without your presence,” she said.
“…having talks on data and bioinformatics, equity and inclusion, workforce capacity building, and more are a perfect reflection of Uganda’s digital transformation programme,” she added.