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 health care industry has not been left behind.
Mobile technology is helping to enhance the delivery of health services and communication between public health systems, medical services providers, and patients. 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 mobile health (mHealth) technologies comes in. mHealth innovations seek to bridge the gap in communication between doctors and patients and to put health services within reach of the public. It also utilizes mobile technology to increase access to and quality of health care services.
mHealth Kenya is a pioneer of mobile health technologies and initiatives bringing together a team of experts with a diversity of knowledge, experience, and a deep understanding of the health sector.
Dr Cathy Mwangi the CEO mHealth Kenya boasts a wealth of experience in developing, managing and implementing health information systems in the US and in Kenya. She has assembled an experienced team of experts in health information systems, health projects design and implementation, mobile and network communications technology backed by a strong experience in program funds management.
With mobile phone penetration in Kenya now at over 80% and rising, Dr Mwangi says mHealth Kenya will seek to leverage on this growth to improve the quality and access of health care services.
“mHealth seeks to cut 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.” says Dr Mwangi. mHealth Kenya has risen to be at the forefront of facilitating improved public health through use of mobile technologies. “In all our projects, our principal partners have been the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), CDC Foundation and the Ministry of Health through its relevant departments. We have been the Ministry of Health-preferred mobile technology partner, a relationship that has been built over the last 3 years and is documented by the successful delivery of the various platforms” said Dr Mwangi.
“mHealth Kenya basically develops mobile technology solutions and also works hand in hand with partners who develop mobile applications so as to synergize technology to be used within the 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 and roll out such projects. mHealth Kenya 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, non-government organizations and private institutions like Safaricom, Kenya Medical Supplies Authority (KEMSA), and Clinton Health Access Initiatives (CHAI) among others. These partnerships and collaborations have borne several innovations that have increased access and quality of health services. Some of the innovations that have been developed and implemented by mHealth Kenya include mPEP Care System, Text for Life System and KEMSA eMobile.
mPEP (mobile Post-Exposure Prophylaxis) Care was developed in Kenya in 2013 to reduce risks of health care workers contracting infectious diseases such as HIV through occupational exposure, such as a needle-stick injury. Using the mPEP system, follow-up care for health care workers who have been exposed to an infectious disease is managed largely through an automated phone system which sends text messages to potentially infected caregivers, alerting them to upcoming appointments and reminding them to adhere to their medications.“The mPEP initiative is just one in a series of technology-based efforts mHealth Kenya is using to reshape public health in Kenya. It is an interactive system that reminds health care workers when they should go for their tests and when they should pick up their emergency kit or medication. This system compliments the manual process of recording,” says Dr Mwangi.After its initial rollout, there were many lessons learnt and the system is being enhanced and improved before the next phase of implementation.
Text for Life
Another application initiated by mHealth Kenya is the Text for Life (T4L) system, an SMS-based platform that allows blood donors to receive messages about their donation and testing status and also add themselves to the system. This system was developed in partnership with the Kenya National Blood Transfusion Services, Bloodlink Foundation, CDC Foundation and Intellisoft Consulting through funding from the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).
Developed in 2013, T4L 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 never knew where to collect their results and also
those donating blood were typically not notified of their status. 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 the need for additional donations, either through repeated shortages or when a severe emergency crisis occurs.”Dr Mwangi says the service has so farrecruited almost 100,000 people and the number is growing.
KEMSA eMobile is a service that tracks medical commodities right from the time of order to delivery. The technology behind KEMSA eMobile enables public health facilities to order and track medical supplies directly from KEMSA 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 Kenya has been interacting with health care workers in medical institutions for recommendations on how to improve mobile health technologies by identifying problems and constantly evaluating outcomes and incorporating discoveries.
“We hope to grow mHealth Kenya and connect with more partners and academic institutions to increase our capacity. The beauty about mHealth is that the resources are right here with us in the country and mHealth plays a very key role 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 received and 2 awards for the Best Use of ICT in the health sector during the 2014 and 2015 ICT Value Awards by the Information Communication Technology Association of Kenya (ICTAK) and the Plus One Award during the 2015 CIO 100 Annual Award Competition in the Health Sector category