Saving Ghana’s Next Generation from HIV

By Yoko Eguchi

At roughly 15 percent, Ghana’s high mother-to-child HIV transmission rate makes this sub-Saharan African nation among the world’s 22 countries with the highest incidence of HIV infection in pregnant women. The Ghanaian Ministry of Health is working with IBM, the Yale School of Medicine and other global partners to reduce Ghana’s mother-to-child HIV transmission rate to less than 1 percent by 2020 – just six years from now. Helping Ghana achieve this ambitious and essential goal is what attracted me to the recent IBM Corporate Service Corps/Yale School of Medicine collaboration with their Ministry of Health.

The author (fourth from right) with the Corporate Service Corps/Ghana team
The author (fourth from right) with the Corporate Service Corps/Ghana team

Africa is on the rise. It has the world’s youngest population, and soon will have the largest population of any continent. In addition to the tragic human cost of HIV, Ghana’s developing economy cannot afford to lose any more people to preventable disease. As part of the broader effort to reduce the country’s HIV transmission rate, my Corporate Service Corp (CSC) sub-team worked with the Ghana Health Service to develop ways to capture and analyze public health data, and refine it into actionable information in the fight against HIV.

My CSC team of 12 IBMers from seven countries spent 30 days in Ghana’s capital city of Accra. The first part of our mission was to collect information about the Health Service’s goals for providing services across the country, and then evaluate their current data systems. To do this, we met with a wide variety of stakeholders in Accra and in the field during several hospital visits. Among the most pressing concerns we identified was the Health Service’s paper-based medical records system. Using this legacy system placed a heavy burden on the Health Service’s workers, and impeded their ability to collect, maintain and analyze data effectively.

In addition, Ghana’s infrastructure challenges – such as frequent electricity outages and poor network connectivity (especially in rural areas) – made implementing a modern data management and communications systems difficult. That said, Ghana’s lack of the types of overlapping and often incompatible information systems found in more developed economies gave them an advantage. To manage its health care system IT, Ghana was in a position to start fresh with the latest technologies without concerns of “backward compatibility.”

Based on our findings from our field visits and stakeholder workshops, we developed a strategy to establish an IBM Cloud-based medical record system. We also proposed an offline mobile data management client that medical personnel could use to update patient records even during power outages and network downtime. These two advances could allow Ghana to leapfrog many more developed economies in the effectiveness, scalability and reliability of its nationwide medical records system. We were delighted when the Ghana Health System enthusiastically embraced our recommendations!

Looking back on my Corporate Service Corps experience, I had been concerned about whether our globally diverse team would be able to gel quickly enough to support our client in just 30 days. At the same time, I was excited by the challenge, and felt reassured about my team’s ability to contribute as soon as the project got underway. In addition to a great group on the ground, my team also had support from IBM Research in Haifa and Nairobi. Working together with an enthusiastic client, we were able to develop recommendations that we expect to help Ghana realize its goal of eliminating mother-to-child HIV transmission in the near future.

Yoko Eguchi is an IBM Global Services consultant based in Tokyo.

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