The interim Prime Minister of Tonga, Honourable Reverend Doctor Pohiva Tu’ionetoa launched the National Health Information System (NHIS) under the Introducing eGovernment through Digital Health project (eHealth project) at an official ceremony held in Nuku’alofa. The launch event was attended by Honourable Frederica Fatafehi ‘o Lapaha Tuita of the Tongan Royal Family; Ministers and members of Tonga’s diplomatic corps; senior officials of the Government of Tonga; senior staff of the Ministry of Health; media; civil society and other stakeholders. Joining via web-based platforms, were senior management and project staff of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) in Manila; project consultants from across Canada, Europe and South-East Asia; and representatives of various development partners.

Under a grant from ADB, the project was approved on 4 July, 2019; and became effective on 29 October, 2019. With a total funding of US$8.5 million of which the Government of Tonga contributed $1 million in kind, the project finances the development of health data policy; the drafting of legislation to protect privacy of personal health information; a customized health information system for collecting, processing and disseminating health information; as well as extensive capacity building support for the Ministry of Health (MOH) across the Kingdom.

The proposed MOH policy and strategy, articulate the benefits of digitizing health data and the future direction of digitization for delivery of health services under the Ministry of Health. The draft Personal Health Information Privacy Act (PHIPA), once enacted; will be the first stand-alone legislation to address privacy of personal health information in Tonga. The PHIPA’s focus on personal health information, will strengthen protection for the confidentiality and security of patient data.

The CEO of the Ministry of Health, Dr. Siale ‘Akau’ola “acknowledges the support provided by the ADB to help modernize the methods for gathering, processing and disseminating health information within the era of the fourth industrial revolution. The NHIS project will contribute towards the achievement of Tonga’s Strategic Development Framework, 2015–2025, particularly organizational outcome 2.5 on universal health coverage. The efficiency of our services to the people of Tonga will be greatly improved”.

Dr. ‘Akau’ola further “acknowledges the successful collaboration between the Project Management Unit under the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Finance (the executing agency) and the Project Staff of the ADB in Manila for the speedy and successful implementation of this project during the challenges of Covid19.”

The project finance continues until August 2026 to successfully roll out the system to the outer-islands, provide extensive capacity building support, ongoing trouble shooting and maintenance of the hardware and software. The project is expected to “go-live” initially at Vaiola Hospital on 1 December, 2021; with subsequent phased roll-out to other healthcare centres and hospitals across Tongatapu and in the outer islands in the first half of 2022. As designed, this NHIS project will interface with the World Bank funded Tonga Digital Government Support project once the eGovernment system is launched; an initial interface with the Ministry of Justice’s Civil Registry and Vital Statistics database.

This is the first of ADB’s direct sovereign assistance to the Ministry of Health since Tonga became a member in 1972. The ADB has 68 member countries including 14 members in the Pacific, of which 12 are Pacific small island developing states. Since Tonga’s membership, ADB has provided Tonga with US$70.2 million in loans, grants of $154.2 million; US$22.2 million of technical assistance and ADB-administered co-financing of $84.4 million. Cumulative loan and grant disbursements to Tonga, total $164.7 million to date.