AFRICA CONFERENCE ON PRIMARY HEALTH CARE 1.0 – Leveraging Digital Health to Strengthen Primary Health Care

At the time we had the Alma Ata International Conference on Primary Health Care, internet usage and accessibility was not quite rampant, as the case today. In fact, it was complex, costly and limited, as it only existed in rich technologically advanced countries. However, low and middle income countries (LMICs) had almost no presence of the internet technology. This was about four decades ago at the time of the Alma Ata Declaration on Primary Health Care in 1978.

Happy to say that internet technology and digital health devices are beginning to move to every nooks and crannies of this world. Though we are not there yet. I would say we are now moving in the right direction and pace. On the eve of a New Year in 2020, there was an outbreak of pneumonia-like virus, of which none understood exactly what that virus was. The whole globe was into panicking as this novel virus, later identified to be Coronavirus, continued to spread from Asia to the world. Then we had COVID-19 as a pandemic. Lockdowns became a norm at such difficult times of public health threats globally.

As COVID-19 spread further, even the health care systems of the so called rich countries were threatened and those of the poorly governed countries were gasping for 'oxygen' so as not to die from chronic suffocation as a result of systemic neglect of the health sector. So, the need to think out of the box became highly expedient. That was when some heard of Zoom, as a video digital platform for having meetings without having to converge in an enclosed space. Companies, schools and businesses all moved for Zoom technology, not as if it was suddenly new, but due to the effects of lockdown and the dare need for an alternative as a normal social event. Even digital health access increased, as more people saw the need to embrace it, seeking health care.

Already, Africa has about 25% of the world disease burden with just 3% of the global medical workforce. Therefore, as the inaugural Africa Conference on Primary Health Care 1.0, it was unanimously agreed that this year's theme be 'Leveraging Digital Health to Strengthen Primary Health Care". In fact, Zakari Isiaka Osheku, Founder and Executive Director of PHC Initiative Africa stressed that, "digital health will take us closer and faster to health for all, serving as a bridge between primary health care and universal health coverage". Hence, there is never a better time to embrace it than now. Government must continue to invest in health as well as on digital economy by increasing access to broadband technology in public places – including hospitals. I implore the Federal Government of Nigeria, as a matter of urgency and necessity to implement the Abuja Declaration of 2001, of which Nigeria was signatory to, by allocating 15% of the next budget on health. Considering the systematic decay and neglect, this is never too much to ask even if it means holding the government at the jugular veins.

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