Recently, it was announced that Afghanistan’s government had shown intent to try and bolster its healthcare sector through the use of blockchain technology. The intention is to tackle counterfeit medicines, create medical registries in hospitals, and digitize patients’ files with the goal of modernizing the approach.
Part of the problem in a country like Afghanistan is that there is still a strong belief in traditional medicine, and with hospitals and the healthcare sector in general not excelling, there is no desire for the population to trust and believe in it.
More so, the antiquated record-keeping, lack of transparency in terms of medicine, and effectiveness of the administration of the healthcare sector means that this important facet of the country’s operation is being held back.
Afghanistan is now looking to make the leap forward into more modern healthcare, but instead of simply trying to catch up to the rest of the world, it is taking a bold step to incorporate a burgeoning technology that has long been associated healthcare and its potential there.
Afghan Public Health Minister Ferozuddin Feroz explained in the local media:
“The Ministry of Public Health is committed for the institutionalization of electronic government in the health sector, and the blockchain technology would help the ministry bring transparency, acceleration, and effectiveness in the related affairs.”
The issue of counterfeit medicine is running rife in the middle eastern country, according to the European Asylum Support Office (EASO). The government is well aware of the problems, but even the public have expressed their concerns and are even preferring to utilize traditional medicine for health problems due to their inexpensiveness and accessibility.
“The Medicine Importers Union stated that at least 40% of medicine and medical equipment enter the Afghan market illegally and many of the pharmaceutical products are low quality,” the EASO report read.
I spoke with Michael Chen, the CMO of Fantom, the blockchain provider that has signed an MoU with the Afghan government. Fantom, interestingly, will be using a Directed Acyclic Graph (DAG) distributed Ledger technology for the Afghan healthcare sector issues. This technology is supposed to be far faster, and easier to scale, but it sacrifices decentralization somewhat for this.
Chen explained how, with the degree of counterfeiting and corruption in Afghanistan, and its healthcare sector, why blockchain makes sense for them.
“Blockchain technology is especially suitable in making data untamperable and immutable. In countries that see a lot of corruption the e-government and digital data need to be tamper proof to ensure the integrity of the system within. Untamperable patient health records are only a start for eternalizing the data of citizens.”
Chen also went on to address how the technology will be able to start at least tackling the problem of counterfeit medicine, although he did state it would only be a start. However, if there is a success in Afghanistan, it could set a precedent for the rest of the globe as counterfeit medicine is not a wholly Afghan problem.
“This technology will help the health sector in multiple ways, right now, counterfeit medicine is a multi-million dollar problem with mass-produced fake medication. The RFID/QR code-based supply chain tracking solutions won’t completely end counterfeit medication but will make the mass circulation of counterfeits extremely difficult.”
Afghanistan has been pushing itself to the forefront of blockchain usage for some time now. As a smaller, previously war-torn country, there is a lot that needs to be addressed, and re-addressed in order for the nation to right itself.
Blockchain technology allows for the government to try and leapfrog forward, rather than simply play catch up. In the healthcare sector, they have already identified the potential of the technology, but they are also eyeing it out for sustainable urban development.
Working with the UN, a blockchain solution is being lined up for Afghanistan in order to drive sustainable urban development as it is expected that Afghanistan’s population is becoming mostly urban within the next 15 years.
Chen also alluded to the fact that Afghanistan is quite blockchain-progressive while outlining how the Ministry of Public Health has recently shown their interest.
“The Ministry of Public Health has shown great interest in the technology and its potential and will be slated to start using the technology in January. There has been interest in other parts of the government too, which would be positive as all systems could interoperate in that case.”