The Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Isa Pantami, has launched the NigComSat Virtual Health Platform called NigComHealth, on behalf of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.).
Pantami, represented by his Chief of Staff, Prof Sahalu Junaidu, at an event in Abuja, said there was an urgent need to leverage digital technologies to improve access to healthcare services in Nigeria.
NigComHealth, a telehealth service that provides a platform for Nigerians to book appointments, receive medical advice or recommendation and consult with physicians and other healthcare practitioners from the comfort of their homes, offices, schools and localities, was developed by a strategic partnership between Nigerian Communications Satelite and Ethnomet.
The platform, which is a virtual health platform would transform the healthcare platform for Nigerians to access medical care irrespective of their location.
It was designed to host multiple healthcare centres and millions of healthcare service providers and is accessible to users through the NigComHealth App.
The minister noted that compared to other developed nations, Nigeria’s healthcare system remained underdeveloped in terms of telemedicine, outreach, and accessibility to quality healthcare services by the vast number of the communities, especially those residents in rural and remote areas.
To bridge this gap, the NigComHealth Platform was developed as a timely solution to access quality medical practitioners available within Nigeria and across the globe.
The minister said that the Federal Government of Nigeria, spends about $1.2bn to $1.6bn yearly on outbound medical tourism, noting that the NigComHealth programme would reduce this practice drastically, where easy access to first-class medical practitioners would be made available to all Nigerians via NigComHealth digital platform.
Currently, the doctor-to-patient ratio in the country was getting worse, with a physician attending to more than 5,000 patients. This represented a contrast with the World Health Organisation’s recommendation of one doctor to 600 patients.
He said, “The launch of NigComHealth aligns with the Federal Government’s vision to promote digital transformation and boost economic activities in Nigeria. With this platform, we are promoting a more efficient and effective healthcare system that could be accessible to all Nigerians. This will also improve the capacity of our healthcare professionals to deliver quality services, by leveraging technology to reach out to patients in remote areas with less cost and physical stress.
He said, “NigComHealth is a significant milestone in our efforts to improve the quality of life of all Nigerians. This platform will enable us to harness the benefits of technology and access a broader range of doctors and medical experts to deliver quality healthcare services, thereby ensuring that every Nigerian can access the care they need when they need it. With NigComHealth, we are bridging the gap in healthcare access and promoting health equity across the country.
“I am assuring the stakeholders in the health sector, both public and private, to onboard into the initiative. It is access to healthcare by a click. I also urge all Nigerians to embrace this service and take advantage of the opportunities it presents to achieve our goal of promoting health equity throughout the country. Let us work together to promote a healthier Nigeria through digital transformation.”
While speaking to newsmen at the event, the Managing Director, NigComSat, Engr Tukur Lawal, said that the innovation was available for those without smartphones, adding that as the app was rolled out, details on how to register, subscribe and access the services would be made available to the general public.
He added that the services would have a wide coverage to rural areas, would be cheap, and affordable, and eliminate medical tourism as well as long travel distance to access health care services.
He said, “As long as you can make a call with any phone, you can access this service. NigComSat has satellite facilities that can reach anyone wherever they are. We will be present in all 740 local governments in Nigeria.”
On subscription rate and cost-effectiveness of the NigComHealth platform, the MD said that the service would be cheap and affordable and provide access to world-class professionals from anywhere in the world, adding that it would also eliminate the $1.2bn to $1.6bn spent yearly on medical tourism.
Lawal said, “The continuity will be seamless and cost-effective. This service will eliminate the stress of visa application and long trips which could cause secondary illness for those who can afford treatments overseas. You can have access to medical and paramedical professionals across the world in the comfort of your home, or in your hut.”
Also present at the event was the Canadian High Commissioner to Nigeria, Mr James Christoff. In his remarks, Christoff stated that NigComHealth is a digital innovation and game changer that would improve health outcomes, especially in remote areas.
He said, “This digital health platform was developed by Ethnomet (technical partner to NigComSat), a digital health provision company. This health innovation which is a virtual hospital will provide health care to 1.7 million public workers and their families.”
The Chief Executive Officer, Ethnomet Canada, Garnette Weber, said that the solution to the critical shortage of healthcare professionals in Nigeria as well as other nations was telehealth.
She noted that the Nigcom Health Multi Tenant Digital Healthcare Service Platform being launched was a demonstration of the Nigeria Government’s commitment to leveraging innovative technologies to provide quality and accessible healthcare for Nigerians in all regions.
Weber added, “Our company Ethnomet is proud to be associated with this laudable project which will no doubt impact the lives of Nigerians irrespective of their location. Similar to my home province in Canada, Nigeria has a high percentage of the population living in rural areas with limited access to health care facilities.
“The continuous increase in the global population has resulted in a growing demand for scarce healthcare human resources which has become a major concern to governments globally. Telehealth has proven to be very effective in addressing these healthcare challenges as indicated in the Commonwealth Fund’s International Health Policy Survey of Primary Care Physicians.”