KAMPALA – Makerere University School of Public Health (MakSPH) and the Cheikh Anta Diop University, also known as the Cheikh Anta Diop University of Dakar in Senegal have officially launched the much-anticipated digital health payments project.
The three-year project, being funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) to a tune of USD 3 million (about UGX.11 billion) is focused on generating high-quality evidence on the value of digital payments of health workers on the effectiveness of immunisation and other health campaigns in Sub Saharan Africa.
Dr. Elizeus Rutebemberwa, an associate professor in the Department of Health Policy, Planning and Management who represented Prof. Rhoda Wanyenze, the Dean at the MakSPH said that research is a core function of Makerere which also seeks to be a research-led university.
He explained that harnessing digital solutions for health workers will strengthen the response to emergencies in the continent through ensuring rapid reliable and efficient payment of frontline workers involved in specifically immunization campaigns at the start before the payment system is widely rolled out.
Dr. Rutebemberwa said Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has previously funded three other consortium research projects including some on Malaria eradication.
Speaking at the blended project launch held at the Kampala Serena Conference Centre, Prof. Peter Waiswa, the Director Digital Payments Project said that research will generate evidence on digital payments of health workers, noting that the initial project seeks to identify how, and under what circumstances digital payment of health workers can support effective campaign delivery.
Prof. Waiswa also revealed that the much sought-after Digital Health and Innovations project will be implemented in Anglophone countries by Makerere University in Uganda and Francophone countries by Dakar University in Senegal to enhance efforts to digitize payments for health workers by fostering and supporting evidence-based and evidence-driven decision making in Africa.
The research will also lead to the creation of a Center of Excellence to study the issues in sub-Saharan Africa including cushioning health workers from security risks, improved transparency besides enhancing financial inclusion that is key to the realization of universal health coverage.
Themed “Digital Health Innovations: the pathway to a resilient, efficient, interactive and interconnected Health system in Sub Saharan Africa,” the project activities will focus on steering digital payments around the health workforce in a bid to improve work performance in sub-Saharan Africa.
Kendall Krause, Senior Programm Officer, Global Delivery Programs, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation said the project will be vital in helping the digital payment system to grow.
Krause who spoke via video link from the United State of America said the project will improve the way health campaigns run, remove financial exclusion and also help to guide policies in many sub-Saharan African countries.
He pledged that Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will continue to corroborate with Makerere University on many other important projects such as this one.
Margaret McConnell, an Associate Professor of Global Health Economics at the Harvard School of Public Health whose research applies tools from economics to answer questions on improving health outcomes for marginalized populations said the digital payment project will go along away in ensuring that health workers involved in such campaigns are paid their allowances promptly.
Speaking via video link, McConnell, who is currently working on a number of field trials in Africa and Latin America related to messaging and behavior change, said that the innovation which is expected to be rolled out in other African countries will to help address logistical and operational hiccups that have derailed the continent’s response to infectious diseases.
On his part, Ibrahima Khaliloulah Dia, who heads the Health Digital Unity in the Ministry of Health in Senegal, lauded the collaboration between Makerere University and the Cheikh Anta Diop University of Dakar.
Khaliloulah Dia noted that the Senegalese government will support the project for a robust mobile payment ecosystem to ensure that frontline workers involved in the fight against health immunisation and other campaigns are paid promptly.
Dr. Andrew Bakainaga, WHO Country Advisor said African countries that prioritize the adoption of mobile payment innovations will be able to attract and retain highly qualified health workers to boost action on communicable diseases.
“COVID-19 pandemic has brought the urgency to scale up digital payments, reduce the risk of transmission and protect frontline workers,” said Bakainaga.
Makerere University Vice-Chancellor, Prof Barnabas Nawagwe, whose speech was delivered via video link by his deputy, Prof. Umar Kakumba, commended the project team and appreciated MakSPH for the great strides towards making research and innovations at Makerere University more visible.
Nawagwe thanked project funders; the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, saying research in areas around digital innovations is timely and that the project will be paramount in addressing challenges affecting the health sector in Uganda and Africa.
“Greater adoption of mobile payment innovations should be at the heart of preventive and curative interventions aimed at reducing Africa’s burden of infectious diseases and related deaths,” Prof. Nawagwe said.
“I am confident that this project has able leadership of Prof. Peter Waiswa who is supported by many other experts. This way Makerere will fulfill its dreams of becoming a research-led university in Africa and beyond,” he added.
“As a University, we must continue to demonstrate why the Government and development partners must continue funding research and innovations. We should therefore carry out and support research projects in a way that will yield positive impacts on the people we serve and live within our communities. On behalf of Management, we commit to continue supporting all staff whose projects demonstrate the ability to transition Makerere into a research-led University,” he explained.
Available data shows mobile payment innovation was behind the success of the polio immunization campaign in Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Mali, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) by ensuring there was no leakage or delay in compensation of frontline workers.
The pilot test phase of mobile money transfers in polio vaccination campaigns in the eight countries showed positive results. In Liberia, for instance, payment timelines were significantly reduced, with more workers preferring mobile payments over cash, according to a recent survey by the WHO Regional Office for Africa which pioneered the mobile money transfer system under the Polio Eradication Initiative programme essentially to pay vaccination campaign workers.
In the pilot countries, databases now exist for all vaccination campaign workers with vital information such as name, gender, worker designation in the campaign, health district, mobile number and the amount paid. Once a payment is processed, a report can be extracted from the payments portal and shared with all partners.