…Health ministry embraces tele-health platform
The United States government continues to support Namibia from all fronts, this time around through Project ECHO, a platform which connects remote clinical sites with central specialists using a collaborative model of medical education and care management that empowers clinicians everywhere to provide better care to more people where they live.
Project ECHO is a unique tele-health platform and Namibian health officials applauded the Namibian government for embracing this ground-breaking initiative. Project ECHO started as a way to meet local healthcare needs in the state of New Mexico in the United States. New Mexico is a large, arid, sparsely populated state with just one large population centre.
The project came about after a specialist doctor in New Mexico was frustrated that thousands of patients diagnosed with a certain chronic disease that required specialised care could not get the treatment they needed it because there were no specialists where the patients lived. His response to that challenge became Project ECHO, which enabled primary care clinicians to treat complex chronic conditions in their own communities.
The Namibia Project ECHO pilot was launched last November with N$7 million in funding from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and technical assistance from the University of New Mexico, the University of Washington and the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF). The main hub is based in Windhoek and satellite sites have been established in 10 regions. For nine months, about 70 healthcare workers from all over Namibia attended ECHO sessions each Tuesday on the care and treatment of HIV and TB.
“Project ECHO is a readily accessible and broad-reaching alternative to in-person training in Namibia that improves health professionals’ capacity to provide high quality adult and pediatric HIV care and treatment. Project ECHO also provides a professional developmental opportunity through easily available and cost-efficient continuing professional education. With ECHO already reaching ministry of health staff, we are expecting an improvement in quality of services provided to patients, facilitated via on-line teaching, case presentations, and sharing of clinical experiences. All of that contributes to a stronger, national medical care provider community,” said US Ambassador to Namibia, Thomas Daughton, when he joined healthcare workers in Windhoek for a session.
Daughton underscored that the US promoted and invested in Namibian Project ECHO with the goal of bringing quality medical services to patients in this country. “This initiative promotes the development of the public health workforce, creating better care to more people where they live, while also strengthening Namibia’s public health system,” he said. He also revealed that the embassy intends to continue supporting the health ministry through the implementation phase of this project by providing an additional US$500 000 (N$7 million) to expand the Project ECHO network to additional rural healthcare delivery sites around the country.
“Our pledge to support ECHO in Namibia is part of the American government’s larger commitment to capacity building aimed at strengthening Namibia’s health care system and the health care providers who work in it,” he said. Speaking to this publication after the event, an excited Daughton said Namibia was chosen to host the pilot phase partly because of the telecommunication infrastructure in the country. “They [developers] settled here because Namibia, to a certain extent, is similar to New Mexico when it comes the vastness of the country and the area that needs to be covered by health officials when they want an expert opinion when they encounter problem cases.
“The health ministry has been pushing for decentralised treatment, but with some clinics situated in the middle of nowhere and limited transport to go into the regional capitals on a regular basis, through this project, health officials now have access to professional interaction with experts without having to leave the clinic. Also, it will not be sustainable for officials to travel for workshops just for an opinion while they can interact through this mode,” he said.
The project has reached post-pilot phase.
Daughton says the project will also involve local medical experts who will share their skills with health officials in remote areas.
About Project ECHO
Project ECHO has enormous potential as an affordable healthcare intervention in rural communities where certain chronic diseases have reached epidemic levels and healthcare resources and personnel are scarce.
This model focuses on the principles of case-based learning and disease management using the telemedicine infrastructure and internet-based technologies to co-manage patients in community-based practices. The ultimate goal of Project ECHO was to provide the same level of healthcare to rural patients with chronic diseases as can be obtained in an urban setting.
A secondary goal was to provide rural healthcare practitioners with a level of interaction and support commensurate with their urban counterparts to enhance their technical competence and decrease their feelings of professional isolation.