By Carolyne Khamala
For a long time women in Africa are presented with the most difficult decision of whether to provide food for their children or healthcare due to the high cost of accessing quality healthcare services.
The sub-Saharan Africa is said to be home to 12% of the world’s population with 22% of the global disease burden. In addition, a number of health facilities in Africa are ill equipped to provide basic health services to millions of people in dire need of these services.
To address such issues, a number of health organisations have shifted their focus to research and find innovative ways to provide solutions in order to save lives especially in most underdeveloped countries in sub- Saharan Africa.
In the recent past, Africa has seen a rise in mobile and internet penetration with over 70% mobile phone penetration and 7-10% getting access to the internet. Mobile phones have revolutionised a number of sectors ranging from education to commerce, agriculture, healthcare and many more.
Most donor funded health orgaisations and corporate organisations such as Safaricom, Kenya’s largest network through the M-pesa Foundation invest largely in innovative solutions to improve the health standards of communities as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).
Having worked in a health Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) for a number of years, I have had an opportunity to work with a team of creative and innovative researchers who work tirelessly to develop innovative ways to provide health solutions to save lives through the mobile phone technology such as M-Hakika, HELP, m-JALI, m-JIBU which I will discuss briefly in this article.
In my line of duty, I have also documented great stories from some of the beneficiaries of these innovations especially in hard to reach areas where access to quality and affordable healthcare is a major issue.
M-Hakika also known as the mobile wallet health insurance is a mobile phone application that provides access to healthcare and money to women in Kenya who cannot afford the high costs of healthcare services.
The platform also provides women the freedom to make their own decisions about the health of their families. The health wallet also helps them make savings through the mobile phone, pay and receive money for healthcare at any health clinic of their choice.
The Health Enablement Learning Platform (HELP) is a mobile learning solution that provides learning content approved by the Ministry of Health to health workers. The platform can be accessed from any location through the Short Message Service (SMS), audio case – studies, lectures, quizzes and assignments and at the same time helps health workers seek advise from their colleagues and experts.
A tracking system provides reports on the users performance. The application has resulted in increased knowledge and skills of the health workers, improved referral levels between the community and the health facility.
The learning platform complements the face-to-face learning while yielding better results than classroom learning.
I recently visited Nzauni Dispensary in Mwingi sub-county where health workers are using the HELP group chat collaboration feature to sensitise community health workers on various health issues and provide direction on how to address various health problems at the household level.
“The HELP platform has provided a much easier and faster way of communicating with household members within my community. I was able to follow up on a patient suffering from TB and had defaulted for quite some time from the training I undertook through my mobile device,” said one of the health workers.
mJALI (Mobile JamiiAfya Link) is a mobile phone application running on Android system that automates the collection and management of health data from community health workers.
Once the data is collected using the mobile phone, the data is transmitted to the Community-based Health Management Information System (CBHMIS) for collation before transmission to the Data Health Information System (DHIS).
More and more developing countries are beginning to use mobile technology in health. In countries such as South Africa is using the MAMA SMS service to provide support to pregnant women and new mothers with evidence-based during postnatal care while BBC launched a WhatsApp mobile phone service to send audio, images and text message alerts to the public on how to combat the spread of Ebola in Africa.
This is a clear indication that in the present time the mobile phone is a powerful tool and plays a key role in providing information and education in health systems in Africa and save millions of lives.