University of the Witwatersrand

Prof Conrad Mueller
Department of Computer Science, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg

He described a project in conjunction with SAP and his university's School of Public Health, in the management of rural health care – specifically treatment compliance for chronic conditions such as hypertension and TB. Their research question was whether community resources – such as rural healthcare workers - could be more effectively used. Another question was the reliability of recordkeeping. The project has encountered many problems including inter-provincial system differences, and the cost of undertaking such research in remote, often inaccessible, rural areas. Results were that doctors can play little part in remote areas and generally stay at base hospitals. Ambulances seldom reach the remote locations due to extremely poor road conditions. The challenge is to come up with a proposal that deals with issues as diverse as privacy, recordkeeping, and allowed scope of action (e.g. are health workers entitled to take blood pressure).

The future of the project is somewhat uncertain with the PhD student resigning from SAP and joining Meraka IT Research Institute (which is investigating smart card technology). It is hoped that it will be possible to negotiate with all the parties to come up with a revised proposal which will accommodate everyone. The revised proposal may need to explore an urban rather than rural environment Ultimately it comes down to developing patients’ capacity for self-management, within a ICT framework that enables collection of both patient and epidemiological data.