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Opinions of Tuesday, 20 July 2021

Columnist: Francis Ametepe

Digitization and the Economy: The Abandonment of Ghana's IT Literates

ICT plays very important roles in the development of a nation ICT plays very important roles in the development of a nation

Worldwide, there is no doubt that ICT plays very important roles in the development of a nation.

Obviously, the acquisition of quality data and use of sophisticated analytical tools helps leaders to make informed decisions about their countries. However, no one can rule out the fact that availability of jobs for people is fundamental to the development of any nation in the world.

The Vice President of Ghana has a very special interest in IT and digitization of the country’s economy which should be a good sign for IT literates across the country. Almost every sector is receiving some form of digital transformation to improve the efficiency of work in those sectors.

But how many jobs have the digital transformation brought to Ghanaians? And how many job losses has it created? How many local businesses have collapsed, and how many new ones have been formed as a result of the digital transformation?

At least, we are aware that GCNet which is a Ghanaian company at Tema Port had its contract terminated and awarded to UNIPASS which is a foreign-based company (specifically, Korea). I am no expert in all IT systems in all sectors of the economy, but what I know is that IT systems only implement the business logic of an institution.

So, if there is a clear definition of the business logic, IT specialists in the country should be able to do it by following that logic. Alright, so a job was created for the Koreans in Ghana’s IT transformation whilst the Ghanaians lost and became, probably jobless. I am not an economist like the vice President, but I don’t see how this can help the cedi appreciate against the dollar.

I am a healthcare professional with so much interest in digitization of the health sector and would love to see patient records accessed in different locations by different providers to provide the best of care for patients. The vice president’s digital transformation is hitting the health sector too, and from what I see maybe the worst decision ever.

Before this government (Nana Addo and Bawumia) there existed several medium and small companies in Ghana writing software for health facilities across the country. Prominent amongst these vendors were InfoTechdotnet systems (developers of Hospital Administration and Management Software – HAMS).

There are many other software like PHIS, Carewex EMR, Arksoft, Saprosoft, EyeRed and a lot of others that cannot be mentioned here. These systems were designed by Ghanaians who had either studied Computer Science/IT in our universities or those who had taken extra courses from institutions like Kofi-Annan Centre for Excellence in ICT, IPMC, BlueCrest College/NIIT and the rest. How nice that institutions in our country could train the people to do something that improves the efficiency of work in other sectors.

In a recent letter signed by the Director General of Ghana Health Service, Dr. Patrick Kuma-Aboagye and addressed to all Regional Directors of Ghana Health Service and their subordinates, all public health facilities are to be switched to a new software called Lightwave Electronic Medical Records System.

This means that all health facilities using software designed by our local people who were already in the market before the President was elected will now lose their customers and potentially, their jobs. Wow.!!

A quick search on Lightwave shows that it is a company based in Atlanta in the United States of America. So, a whole healthcare IT industry where hundreds to thousands of Ghanaians were feeding from and more could have been added will now be handed over to a foreign-based American company whilst our local developers go hungry? Why should we go to school to study computer science, then?

For a very long time I thought that the NPP is a capitalist government that is supposed to implement policies that strengthen private businesses in the country, but as far as digitization of our sectors is concerned, I may be very wrong.

There are more than 200 EMR companies in America. The annual revenue for some of these companies could be as much as six billion dollars. Each of these companies have employed a good number of Americans. And In fact, Lightwave is nowhere near the top 100 companies.

In order for American government to get the data it needs for decision making, they established an office of the National Coordinator for Health IT. This office sets standards for the development of electronic medical records systems in America.

All software vendors would now be instructed to comply with the standard, and then the facilities are told to buy software that is compliant with the standard the office has set.

All facilities using software compliant with the standard would be eligible for an additional package, an incentive. So, there are multiples of EMR companies in America including Lightwave that have employed the IT graduates the universities are producing.

In Ghana, it is a different story. The existing firms are being collapsed by the circular from the Director-General. And the way I see it, nothing can be done to stop it. Already, installations done by a local company (Infotechdotnet) in the Teaching hospitals have been eradicated and Lightwave has taken over. How painful?

During the digital transformation drive in America, a team of experts had put together the stages they wanted healthcare IT to go through. They called it “Meaningful Use” and there were three stages. So, they had Meaningful use stage 1, stage 2 and stage 3, each of which required the software developer to improve on their software over a certain period of time.

The software had to be interoperable so that irrespective of the software used, critical patient information can be shared between disparate systems. Standards like HL7, SNOMED, LOINC and RxNorm exist to take care of these. Our brothers and sisters studying Msc.

Health Informatics may have heard of these standards, they may never get the opportunity to see how they work because now, all health facilities would be using one software that does not require these standards to share information.

I feel sad for those learning to improve on the situations they found before going to school, because by the time they return, it will be a different thing altogether.

If the government could reverse that decision of giving the entire health system IT to one American company to making it open for all local IT and health experts to participate in, it will be good for all of us.