The potential use of digital health technologies in the African context: a systematic review of evidence from Ethiopia

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently put forth a Global Strategy on Digital Health 2020–2025 with several countries having already achieved key milestones. We aimed to understand whether and how digital health technologies (DHTs) are absorbed in Africa, tracking Ethiopia as a key node. We conducted a systematic review, searching PubMed-MEDLINE, Embase, ScienceDirect, African Journals Online, Cochrane Central Registry of Controlled Trials,, and the WHO International Clinical Trials Registry Platform databases from inception to 02 February 2021 for studies of any design that investigated the potential of DHTs in clinical or public health practices in Ethiopia. This review was registered with PROSPERO (CRD42021240645) and it was designed to inform our ongoing DHT-enabled randomized controlled trial (RCT) ( ID: NCT04216420). We found 27,493 potentially relevant citations, among which 52 studies met the inclusion criteria, comprising a total of 596,128 patients, healthy individuals, and healthcare professionals. The studies involved six DHTs: mHealth (29 studies, 574,649 participants); electronic health records (13 studies, 4534 participants); telemedicine (4 studies, 465 participants); cloud-based application (2 studies, 2382 participants); information communication technology (3 studies, 681 participants), and artificial intelligence (1 study, 13,417 participants). The studies targeted six health conditions: maternal and child health (15), infectious diseases (14), non-communicable diseases (3), dermatitis (1), surgery (4), and general health conditions (15). The outcomes of interest were feasibility, usability, willingness or readiness, effectiveness, quality improvement, and knowledge or attitude toward DHTs. Five studies involved RCTs. The analysis showed that although DHTs are a relatively recent phenomenon in Ethiopia, their potential harnessing clinical and public health practices are highly visible. Their adoption and implementation in full capacity require more training, access to better devices such as smartphones, and infrastructure. DHTs hold much promise tackling major clinical and public health backlogs and strengthening the healthcare ecosystem in Ethiopia. More RCTs are needed on emerging DHTs including artificial intelligence, big data, cloud, cybersecurity, telemedicine, and wearable devices to provide robust evidence of their potential use in such settings and to materialize the WHO’s Global Strategy on Digital Health.

The role of health service delivery networks in achieving universal health coverage in Africa

Most countries in Africa are faced with health system problems that vary from one to the next. Countries with a low Human Development Index (HDI) seem to be more prone to challenges in health service delivery. To mark its 70th anniversary on World Health Day, the World Health Organization (WHO) selected the theme “Universal Health Coverage (UHC): Everyone, Everywhere” and the slogan “Health for All. ”UHC refers to ensuring that all people have access to needed health services (including prevention, promotion, treatment, rehabilitation, and palliation) of sufficient quality to be effective while also ensuring that the use of these services does not expose the user to financial hardship. UHC is a WHO’s priority objective. Most governments have made it their major goal.

This paper provides a perspective on the challenges of achieving UHC in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). It also endeavors to spotlight the successful models of Health Service Delivery Networks (HSDNs) that make significant strides in making progress towards achieving UHC. HSDNs propose models that facilitate the attainment of affordability and accessibility while maintaining quality in delivering health services. Additionally, it brings up to speed the challenges associated with setting up HSDNs in health systems in SSA. It then makes propositions of what measures and strategic approaches should be implemented to strengthen HSDNs in SSA. This paper further argues that UHC is not only technically feasible but it is also attainable if countries embrace HSDNs in SSA.

Did COVID-19 Pandemic change Anaesthesia Practices in India: A Multi-centre Cross-sectional Study

The anaesthetic management for surgeries during the COVID-19 pandemic has posed unique challenges. Safety of all healthcare workers is an additional concern along with heightened risk to patients during General Anesthesia (GA). COVID-19 pneumonia and aerosol generation may be exacerbated during airway intervention and GA. We aimed to assess the change in the mode of anaesthesia due to the pandemic.

A research consortium led by WHO Collaboration Centre for Research in Surgical Care Delivery in Low and Middle Income countries, India, conducted this retrospective cross-sectional study in 12 hospitals across the country. We compared the anaesthesia preferences during pandemic (April 2020) to a corresponding pre pandemic period (April 2019)

A total of 636 out of 2,162 (29.4%) and 156 out of 927 (16.8%) surgeries were performed under GA in April 2019 and April 2020 respectively, leading to a fall of 13% in usage of GA. A 5% reduction in GA and a 12% increase in the usage of regional anaesthesia was observed for cesarean sections. There was no significant change in anesthesia for laparotomies and fracture surgeries. However, 14% increase in GA usage was observed in surgeries for local soft tissue infections and necrotic tissues.

Though overall usage of GA reduced marginally, the change was mainly contributed by anesthesia for caesarean births. The insignificant change in anaesthesia for other surgeries may be attributed to the lack of facilities for spinal anaesthesia and may reflect the risk taking behaviour of healthcare professionals in COVID-19 pandemic.

The Withdrawal of the United States From the World Health Organization and Its Impact on Global Neurosurgery

To the Editor:

Right now, in any low to middle income country (LMIC), a child has developed postinfectious life-threatening hydrocephalus or a mother has suffered a brain bleed after a motor vehicle collision. Their lives could be saved by neurosurgical procedures such as shunting, third ventriculostomies, or burr holes. In the poor countries of the world, these conditions are incredibly common and result in significant morbidity and mortality while taking a tremendous toll on national economies. The Lancet Commission on Global Surgery clearly demonstrated the utility in ensuring access to life-saving surgical interventions such as these.1 However, the efforts to help vulnerable people lead full and productive lives are now at profound risk due to the unfortunate decision by the United States to withdraw funding from the World Health Organization (WHO).

On July 7, 2020, the United States announced its withdrawal of large financial support to WHO due to concerns surrounding the agency’s coronavirus response. Global efforts in infectious disease control, nutrition, and education will certainly be impacted by this decision, but so will global neurosurgery. Defunding WHO could have a profound impact on the gains made in capacity-building efforts and improving access to neurosurgical care.

Global neurosurgery is the public health and clinical care of neurosurgical patients with the primary purpose of ensuring timely, safe, and affordable neurosurgical care to all who need it.2 The Lancet Commission on Global Surgery incorporates all surgical disciplines, including global neurosurgery. The release of the Commission sounded the alarm on the investment of interdependent components of a surgical system such as anesthesia staff, nurses, operating rooms, critical care services, and biomedical engineers.3 With better capacity comes better neurosurgery and consequently improved treatment of the millions of patients every year with life-altering neurosurgical disease.

So where does WHO fit in? The United Nations (UN) has outlined its Sustainable Developmental Goals, which are to be reached by 2030. Global neurosurgery is related to targets #3 and #17—the promotion of healthy lives and global partnerships, respectively.4 WHO is the coordinating authority regarding health within the UN.

WHO is mandated to implement the health priorities set by its member states (MSs). In 2015, the members of WHO unanimously passed a resolution calling for “Strengthening Emergency and Essential Surgical Care and Anaesthesia as a Component of Universal Health Coverage.” The United States was a cosponsor of this historic resolution. Today, with the help of WHO and its key partners, more than 40 LMICs are currently in various stages of implementing the mandates of this resolution. Subspecialists such as neurosurgeons are transforming the profession by integrating the principle of health equity with WHO’s support. For example, WHO has partnered with the World Federation of Neurosurgical Societies (WFNS), the largest professional society within neurosurgery, to better understand the global neurosurgical disease burden and workforce deficits. This partnership also permits better access to local stakeholders to continue important advocacy efforts. Individual LMICs, under the WFNS-WHO partnership, can effectively push the agenda of improved neurosurgical care that is nationally or regionally specific.

At the World Health Assembly meeting in 2018, it was clear that WHO was increasing collaboration and communication between neurosurgical systems around the world.5 As Rosseau describes, neurosurgeons convened with health ministries and other key players to commit to “…sharing training, equipment, and other resources with the rest of the global surgery community.” Neurosurgeons seated at the table with WHO was a significant step in the right direction.

Finally, it is well known that WHO is one of the most significant champions of Universal Health Coverage (UHC). Neurosurgical care is part of UHC and thus needs to be protected at all costs. In a country like Uganda, where the average person makes $2280 USD/yr and may spend up to $1220 USD for a neurosurgical procedure, the economic burden on patients can be devastating.6 WHO encourages governments to strategically partner with the public and private sectors to ensure that all health needs, including neurosurgical ones, are economically met with the best quality of medicine available.

The global neurosurgery movement, as part of the broader global surgery movement, would not have been possible without WHO. The key stakeholders respect and depend on WHO to set global priorities and support the MS implementation of their mandates. Yes, WHO can improve. But the United States will be far more effective in driving the improvement as an MS. The consequences of withdrawal of funding from WHO are devastating and will adversely affect millions of people around the world and, in particular, neurosurgical patients.

An Analysis of Factors Associated with Burn Injury Outcomes in Low- and Middle-Income Countries

Burn injuries are a major cause of morbidity and mortality within low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). The World Health Organization developed the Global Burn Registry to centralize data collection for the guidance of burn prevention programs. This study analyzed the epidemiologic and hospital-specific factors associated with burn injury outcomes in LMICs and high-income countries (HICs).

A retrospective review was performed using the Global Burn Registry over 3 y. Patients were stratified by income region. Bivariate analyses and stepwise regressions were performed to evaluate patient and hospital demographics and variables associated with injury patterns and outcomes. Outcomes of interest included mortality and length of stay.

Over the study period, data were collected on 1995 patients from 10 LMICs (20 hospitals) and four HICs (four hospitals). Significantly higher mortality was seen in LMICs compared with HICs (17% versus 9%; P < 0.001). There was no significant difference between income regions for injury patterns (P = 0.062) or total body surface area of the burn injury (P = 0.077). Of the LMIC hospitals in this data set, 11% did not have reliable access to an operating theater.

HICs had a lower overall mortality even with higher rates of concurrent injuries, as well as longer length of stay. LMIC hospitals had fewer resources available, which could explain increased mortality, given similar total body surface area. This study highlights how investing in health care infrastructure could lead to improved outcomes for patients in low-resource settings.