Transforming healthcare system through ICT

From Business Today

Dr Cathy Mwangi has an ambitious dream. She envisions the day when Kenya’s healthcare system will be seamless. When, she says, it will be possible to rush to the nearest health centre, see a doctor within minutes, who can then access your medical history within seconds and treat you immediately.

It happens in the West and she reckons there is no reason why it can’t happen here, provided that the country invests in ICT. Not being one to sit around and wait for policy makers, she has been laying building blocks of her own and in December 2014 was feted for her efforts. Dr Cathy Mwangi won the ICT Woman of the Year Award by the Information Communication Technology Association of Kenya for her work at mHealth Kenya.

The organisation’s work was described as transformative. Under her leadership, mHealth Kenya, a CDC Foundation initiative, has designed mobile-based ICT solutions that are improving healthcare delivery. Her work being low-key, she says the award came as a surprise. “This was my first award ever. It shows that some other people are recognising the work we do. Our projects are funded by the CDC Foundation and the systems we develop end up being used by the Ministry of Health. So when you are working for public health you do not expect that kind of recognition,” she says.

One of the applications that brought mHealth to the limelight is a system used by the Kenya Medical Supplies Agency (KEMSA) to track drugs from warehouse to medical centres. Before its introduction, cases of hospitals ordering drugs only to miss out on supplies were rife. The drugs agency would dispatch drugs, but somewhere along the supply chain they would disappear into the hands of corrupt officials. But with the system, the drugs reach the intended centres.

“It bridges the gap between facilities that can order drugs using computers and those that can’t because they are in remote places but have phones. With devolution ordering is now being done at the county level,” she says.

Text For Life blood donation

mHealth has also produced Text For Life, yet another revolutionary product that is helping boost Kenya’s blood bank. It is a blood donors system that allows the Kenya National Blood Transfusions Services (KNBTS) to communicate with donors. Ms Mwangi says it is meant to change Kenyans from hit-and-run kind of blood donors. Blood donation has for a long time been irregular in Kenya with majority of people doing only during emergencies.

“We have a perennial shortage of blood in the country and therefore felt we needed to change the culture. The only way to do so is to encourage people to take up blood donation as a regular activity. So Text For Life has been instrumental in allowing blood donors to recruit themselves,” says the mHealth country director.

She adds that once in the system, the KNBTS communicates with donors on donation areas and where to go for their results after their blood is tested. Text For Life alerts members when they are ready to donate again. “Besides, it helps the KNBS to cut costs because every time people donate blood it is tested and if it’s HIV-positive it goes to waste. But with this system KNBTS can stop HIV+ people, hence save on cost of materials used to test,” Dr Mwangi says.

The system, which was used for the first time during the Westgate attack, has 70,000 regular blood donors. The target is to have 500,000 donors. mHealth has also developed mPep, which stands for mobile post-exposure prophylaxis for health workers who deal with HIV-positive patients. Upon exposure there is a regimen of drugs they are supposed to take for a period of time to prevent infection.

“It works as a calendar, reminding them that they are due to take certain drugs to prevent infection. Most of them are busy and it is easy to forget. But at the same time we are able to know how many healthcare workers are injured,” Dr Mwangi says.

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