MACHARIA: Frustrated Kenya ICT project would be handy for Covid -19 fight
What was Seven Seas Technologies (SST)’s vision of the Managed Equipment Service (MES) project?
The MES project was an idea to equip hospitals with state-of-the-art medical equipment to ensure Kenyans enjoy access to uninterrupted, quality and specialised healthcare services regardless of location.
SST had a sub-contractor role from one of the major supplier, General Electric, who did due diligence to determine our capability as a local project management company, as well as ICT and support maintenance partner.
How crucial was it to integrate the MES through the Healthcare Information Technology (HCIT) project which SST was awarded the contract to deploy?
The project would leverage on MES to build a national E-health backbone and enhance interoperability of fragmented healthcare facilities.
Our brief was to empower the Ministry of Health to have real time data on the clinical impact of the MES infrastructure.
It would also have enabled the national and the county governments to have full visibility on healthcare services statistics, connect medical experts online across Kenya to provide digital tele-diagnostic services and enhance provision of nationwide data for research, innovations and healthcare development.
Why did the government cancel the HCIT contract with SST?
The government terminated the contract in November last year after alleging that several clauses were not founded on the tender documents, mainly the letter of support. We were told the support letter does not feature anywhere in the tender documents, rendering the contract an illegality.
Another matter raised was financial capability that was really a major contradiction to documents presented in the tender and also provided to all international bidders.
How could the deployment of the project have helped in combating the Covid-19 pandemic?
Combating Covid-19 requires precision clinical data. The need for data cannot be underestimated and ICT is the only option. For instance, data documenting the spread is critical for containment at both county and hospital level.
Also, it would be easy to deploy mobile apps/USSD solutions for self-registration, quarantine, geo-fencing, geo-location and faster response.
Technology is also vital in real time reporting on the disease, planning for optimal medical supplies, real time monitoring of health workers at the forefront and ensuring burn-out is contained and managed.
How does failure to deploy the HCIT system impact on Kenya’s push for universal healthcare access that is part of the Big 4 Agenda?
Data remains the bedrock of any healthcare system in this day and age. UHC is a long term project that will take a decade to execute. At its core, ICT will play a critical role in allocating resources, planning and making strategic interventions.
The government alleged SST did not have the financial and technical capacity to deploy the system.
The argument does hold ground. This was a five-year project that would require the Ministry of Health to pay in equal instalments for services rendered.
Upfront, SST was required to fund $35 million to build infrastructure and resource the project. This is not pocket change for a local ICT company. Being a long term project certainly means use of debt capital to fund it against inflows.
Any financial institution with explicit knowledge of government delays in payment would be nervous if there wasn’t some sort of built-in protection. The letter of support was issued to other companies involved in the project.
We have already spent $8.8 million but have not received any payment despite our invoices being accepted and work done certified. Funding this project without any sort of guarantee is the easiest way to bankruptcy.
Was the government obligated to issue SST with a letter of support?
It was and the provisions for the support letter were part of the tender documents and a contractual obligation of the Ministry of Health.
Do you read politics into cancellation of the contract?
Unfortunately, projects with significant country impact end up being political.
By NJIRAINI MUCHIRA