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Big Data in Medicine: Project with the Open University of Tanzania

A team from the University of Bremen and Open University of Tanzania will investigate the challenges connected to the data protection laws in the healthcare sectors of both countries for the next three years. The Alexander von Humboldt Foundation is funding the project with around 48,000 euros.

Professor Alex Boniface Makulilo from the Open University of Tanzania and Professor Benedikt Buchner from the Institute for Information, Health and Medical Law at the University of Bremen are focusing their joint research mainly on the electronic health card and the connected challenges concerning the data protection laws in their countries. At the same time, the basis for the establishment of a Master of Laws program on medical law in Tanzania is to be built. The courses of said program are to be held by both the German and Tanzanian parties. Early-career researchers from both Germany and Tanzania are involved in the project: Dr. Dennis-Kenji Kipker and Merle Freyer from the University of Bremen and Dr. Rindstone Ezekiel and Doreen Mwamlangala from the Open University of Tanzania. The project carries the title “Strengthening protection of personal data in the health sector: a comparative analysis of the Tanzanian and German eHealth system”.

Data Protection: A Global Problem

With eHealth Applications, such as the electronic health card, digital technologies are finding implementation in the health sector across the world. eHealth can be a support for effectively functioning and cost-saving healthcare, especially in rural areas where there is lower access to medical care. According to the World Health organization (WHO), there is one doctor per 20,000 patients in Tanzania. In Germany, there is reportedly one doctor per 218 patients. Simultaneously, eHealth forces data to be collected, which can then be analyzed and made available in different areas.

“It is particularly challenging to protect sensitive, personal health data in the frame of the relevant laws without unduly impairing the functionality of the health system”, explained Benedikt Buchner with regard to the main task of the research project. The challenge for the data protection laws is present equally in Germany and in Tanzania. However, Germany introduced the health card at an earlier point in time. “The complex problems in the field of eHealth require intense international teamwork. Both sides can profit from each other based on differing experiences and perspectives”, stated Alex Boniface Makulilo.

Comparative Research and Practice-Based Exchange

The researchers intend to investigate the legal data protection environment in both countries in comparative law and empirical studies. They want to do so with a view on the internationalization of data protection law and the increasingly required alignment of the data protection laws with the European basic regulation for data protection, also in third countries. Alongside specialist publications, the intended establishment of an LL.M. program in medical law at the Open University of Tanzania is to be prepared. A curriculum and guidelines for higher education teaching staff are to be developed. Four workshops, which will alternately take place in Bremen and Dar es Salaam, are planned. The first workshop will take place from August 5 – 12, 2019, at the Open University of Tanzania in Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar. All project members and also experts from Tanzania will be in attendance.

Professor Alex Boniface Makulilo is a University of Bremen Research Ambassador

The funding of the joint research project by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation is also confirmation of the idea behind the research ambassador program at the University of Bremen. Professor Alex Boniface Makulilo was recently appointed as one of the ten research ambassadors of the University of Bremen. Research ambassadors represent the university abroad, are contact persons for people interested in studying, teaching or researching in Bremen and help to create a network of former University of Bremen students and researchers. The University of Bremen supports the research ambassadors financially and conceptually. In 2012, Alex Boniface Makulilo completed his PhD as a DAAD scholarship holder under the direction of Benedikt Buchner and then went on to carry out research, especially in the field of data protection law, at the Institute for Health and Medical Law (IGMR) as an Alexander von Humboldt scholarship holder between 2014 and 2016 and in 2017.

Further information:

Prof.Dr. Benedikt Buchner
University of Bremen
Faculty of Law
Institute for Information, Health and Medical Law
Phone: +49 421 218-66040
Email: bbuchnerprotect me ?!uni-bremenprotect me ?!.de

Professor Benedikt Buchner und Professor Alex Boniface Makulilo
In a joint project, Professor Benedikt Buchner (left) and Professor Alex Boniface Makulilo (right) are looking into the legal data protection situation in the healthcare sectors in Germany and Tanzania.