Use of information and communication technologies in the formal and informal health system responses to the 2015 Nepal earthquakes

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Abstract

Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) are increasingly recognized for their potential contributions to health service delivery in Low-and Middle-Income Countries (LMICs). As well as playing a role in improving the provision of health services under everyday ‘normal’ circumstances, ICTs can also be important in preparing for, mitigating, responding to and recovering from disasters. This research explores the use of ICTs in a natural disaster situation in Nepal, a country affected by a series of strong earthquakes in 2015. In March and April 2016, in-depth semi-structured interviews (n = 24) and focus group discussions (n = 4) were conducted with key informants: those affected by the earthquake, and those forming part of the formal or informal health system responses. Data were collected and analysed across three levels, from the bottom ‘upwards’, namely: (1) village level; (2) district level and (3) central/national level. Perceptions of the role and value of ICTs varied greatly—as did patterns of use. While access and capability were found to be key barriers to use rurally, ICTs were nevertheless an important part of the informal response, helping people to gather information, express needs and cope emotionally. They also helped relief agencies in allowing for networking and coordination among actors. Use of ICTs in the formal health system response, however, was severely lacking in many areas, relying more on traditional methods of disaster management. This reflects a general deficiency in, and underuse of, ICTs in the pre-earthquake Nepali healthcare system. We conclude by calling for a redoubling of efforts to improve and increase the adoption, diffusion, integration and regular use of ICTs within the Nepali health system—an approach that will assist with day-to-day service delivery but also provide a crucial platform upon which to build during future crises.

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