Mhealth Technologies leading the way in making Kenya a healthy nation
By Brian Yatich
Mobile solutions are reshaping various sectors in Kenya and are taking root in the new age of communication. With the rapid advancement in mobile technologies, the medical fraternity has not been left behind.
If you are not able to physically visit your doctor, make use of your phone. Health care is accessible anywhere through mobile services. According to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), there are now over 5 billion wireless subscribers; over 70 per cent of them in low and middle income countries. The GSM Association reports commercial wireless signals cover over 85 per cent of the world’s population, extending far beyond the reach of the electricity grid.
In a country where the doctor to patient ratio is an alarming 1: 100,000, the need for innovation in the health sector is critical if hospitals and clinics are to offer quality services. Lack of communication among health-care providers tends to be extremely frustrating, especially to patients and caregivers and this is where Mhealth Technologies comes in.
Mhealth seeks to bridge the gap in communication between doctors and patients and to put health services within reach of the public.
M-Health Kenya CEO Cathy Mwangi has been working with mobile solution companies to offer quality service delivery in Kenya. Having worked as project manager in the United States in implementing systems in electronic medical records Dr Mwangi sees potential in e-health service to improve people’s lives.
She says over 50 per cent of the Kenyan population now have a mobile phone.
“Mhealth cuts the cost of providing healthcare, it maintains and improves the quality of care, reaches patients in even the most remote locations and unburdens the healthcare system by relegating part of the care to mobile communications.”
Mhealth Kenya’s core function is to oversee and manage mobile technology projects in the health sector.
“Mhealth Kenya came about as a beneficiary of CDC Foundation after it won a grant in 2013 to implement mobile technology. MHealth basically develops mobile apps and also works hand in hand with partners who develop mobile applications so as to synergies technology to be used within the ministry of public health system.
“Several mobile service providers and individuals have created new innovations in an effort to improve patient and health care efforts and we have worked closely with them to initiate such projects. Mhealth in this regard helps to improve access and quality while providing dramatic innovation and cost reduction opportunities,” says Dr Mwangi.
The firm has partnered with the government and the private institutions like Safaricom and Kemsa, among others. The pacts have further streamlined the sector, leading to reduced medical bills as well as improved quality care in health service. Some of the initiatives and tools that have been adopted by Mhealth are mPEP, Text for Life and Kemsa E-Mobile.
mPEP (mobile Post Exposure Prophylaxis) was launched in Kenya in 2013 to reduce risks of health workers contracting infectious diseases such as HIV through occupational exposure. Using the mPEP system, follow-up is carried out largely through an automated phone system which sends text messages to potentially infected caregivers, alerting them to upcoming appointments and reminding them to take their medications.
“The mPEP initiative is just one in a series of technology-based efforts mHealth is using to reshape public health in Kenya. It’s an interactive system that tracks when you should go for your tests, and when you should pick up a kit, unlike the previous process of recording manually,” says Dr Mwangi.
In its first rollout phase, mPEP has covered around 204 health facilities in the country.
Text for Life
Another application initiated by Mhealth is the Text for Life, an sms-based platform that allows blood donors to communicate and also recruit themselves into the system.
Launched in 2012, Text for Life is helping to tap into a blood donor base in Kenya, a country where donating blood is not a common practice.
“While all donated blood is screened for infectious diseases like HIV, syphilis, and hepatitis A and B, for years blood donors wouldn’t know where to collect their blood sample and also those donating blood are typically not notified if their blood tests positive for a disease. “Addressing that need, Text for Life uses text messages to notify all blood donors where to see a health professional for their results, counseling and also medication. The system also alerts blood donors to needs that arise, either through repeated shortages or when a severe emergency crisis occurs.”
Dr Mwangi says the service has so far recruited 100,000 people and the number is growing.
Kemsa E-mobile is a service that tracks medical commodities like medicine right from the time of order to delivery. The technology behind Kemsa E-Mobile enables public health facilities to order medical supplies directly from Kenya Medical Supplies Authority through mobile phone, enabling a more efficient and effective distribution of essential medical supplies.
“Having worked with various partners, priorities are not always aligned, scope and project timeline usually contradict, plus the need to develop applications that need to be integrated with others is not easy. Also getting technical individuals to integrate poses yet another challenge,” says Dr Mwangi
She says other applications are under development and will be launched soon.
Mhealth has been interacting with health care workers in medical institutions for recommendations on how to improve Mhealth technology by identifying problems and constantly evaluating outcomes and incorporating discoveries.
“We hope to grow Mhealth Kenya to where we don’t necessarily have to depend too much on donor money. We want to connect more partners to increase our capacity. The beauty about Mhealth is that the resources are within the country. We want to have a big part in e-health in Kenya.”
Dr Mwangi won the 2014 ICT Woman of the Year Award for embracing and supporting ICT in mobile health initiatives. MHealth Kenya also received an award for the best use of ICT in the health sector during the 2014 ICT Value Awards by Information Communication Technology Association of Kenya (ICTAK).