Launch of Project ECHO

U.S. Ambassador Thomas Daughton and Dr. Hamunime of the Ministry of Health and Social Services at the launch of Project ECHO.

Remarks by U.S. Ambassador Thomas F. Daughton Launch of Project ECHO Directorate of Special Programs, MOHSS, Windhoek October 17, 2016

Good Afternoon.  I am delighted to be here with you to witness the launch of the continuation phase of Project ECHO, which stands for Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes.  Project ECHO is a unique tele-health platform and the first of its kind in Africa.  I want to applaud the Namibian government for embracing this ground-breaking initiative.  Project ECHO connects remote clinical sites with central specialists using a collaborative model of medical education and care management that empowers clinicians everywhere to provide better care to more people, right where they live.

Project ECHO started as a way to meet local healthcare needs in the state of New Mexico in the United States.  New Mexico is a large, arid, sparsely populated state with just one large population center.  Does that sound familiar?  A specialist doctor in New Mexico was frustrated that thousands of patients diagnosed with a certain chronic disease that required specialized care could not get the treatment they needed because there were no specialists where the patients lived.  His response to that challenge became Project ECHO, which enabled primary care clinicians to treat complex chronic conditions in their own communities.

Project ECHO has grown since those early efforts, and now addresses some of the most intractable medical problems encountered by national healthcare systems, including inadequate care, disparities in access to care, rising costs, systemic inefficiencies, and unequal or slow diffusion of best practices.  Across the United States and globally, policymakers are recognizing the potential of ECHO to expand workforce capacity exponentially to treat more patients faster using existing resources.  At a time when health care systems are under mounting pressure to do more without spending more, this is critical.

The Namibia Project ECHO pilot was launched nearly a year ago, in November 2015, with USD $500,000 (N$7 million) in funding from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, and technical assistance from the University of New Mexico, the University of Washington and the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF).  The main hub is based here in Windhoek and satellite sites have been established in 10 regions.  For nine months, about 70 healthcare workers from all over Namibia attended ECHO sessions on the care and treatment of HIV and TB.  Project ECHO is a readily accessible and broad-reaching alternative to in-person training in Namibia that improves health professionals’ capacity to provide high quality adult and pediatric HIV care and treatment.  Project ECHO also provides a professional developmental opportunity through easily available and cost efficient continuing professional education.  With ECHO already reaching Ministry of Health staff, we are expecting an improvement in quality of services provided to patients, facilitated via on-line teaching, case presentations, and sharing of clinical experiences.  All of that contributes to a stronger, national Medical Care Provider community.

The United States promoted and invested in Namibia Project ECHO with the goal of bringing quality medical services to patients in this country.  This initiative promotes the development of the public health work force, creating better care to more people where they live, while also strengthening Namibia’s public health system.  We intend to continue to support the Ministry of Health and Social Services through the implementation phase of this project by providing an additional USD $500,000 (N$7 million) to expand the Namibia ECHO network to additional rural healthcare delivery sites around the country.  Our pledge to support ECHO in Namibia is part of the American government’s larger commitment to capacity building aimed at strengthening Namibia’s health care system and the health care providers who work in it.

In closing, I want to congratulate and thank the Ministry of Health and Social Services for establishing its very own Project ECHO – the first in Africa.  It is because of all your great work, enthusiasm and unwavering support that we are witnessing this great achievement move to the next level.  Thank you all.