August 21

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Technology-Transforming lives, in more ways than one.

It’s just another day, you wake up lazily, stretching across your bed, reaching out from under the covers and searching for your phone still dazed from your sleep. You check your messages, respond to some, quickly move onto Facebook: like, share and comment on posts with lots of #hashtags and in the evenings, after working on your computer all day long, your phone helps you choose the trendiest events or restaurants nearby. Sound familiar? For most of us, use of everyday technology like smart phone and computer have become second nature and we don’t think much of it. I personally have a love-hate relationship with technology. Love, for obvious reasons. Hate because the human touch is lost in many ways. Today however, I want to share two stories of my new found appreciation for technology. We all know how technology has helped transform human lives, be it sequencing of the human genome or injecting nanobots into the bloodstream to combat diseases or even 3-D printing of artificial limbs and organs. But my stories are in Sub-Saharan Africa where the presence and use of such technologies is still a long way away. However, mobile phones and computers, things you and I take for granted are being used to save lives.

Story No. 1: Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been working on a project for my NGO, African Medical Research Foundation (Amref), in which mobile phones are used to track the vaccination status of children. Currently, parents in Sub-Saharan Africa find it extremely difficult to get their children vaccinated and this is reflected in the vaccine coverage rate of the countries in this region. According to World Health Organization, vaccine coverage for DTP3# vaccine is <70% in many countries of Sub-Saharan Africa, with South Sudan being the least at 39% coverage*. Many barriers exist for poor vaccine coverage, one of them being logistics. The vaccines are generally stored in health care facilities in towns many miles away and more often than not, the journey turns out to be futile since the facility has run out of stock. Through the mobile phone platform, parents are alerted on the availability of vaccines, reminded when their child is due for vaccination and also helps them book an appointment. This platform also helps in cold storage management and alerting the health care staff when stocks are running low. Parents who don’t have mobile phones are linked to community health workers who have phones and are able to receive and track updates for the children in their community-simple, yet brilliant. Its uptake and success is still a long way away but change has started and it’s a good start.

Story No. 2: Recently, I read an article by Bill Gates in which he talks about the importance of computers and software to broaden the scope of education and learning and my next story is about just that. But first, some statistics to get us thinking; on average, 162,000 mothers die each year during pregnancy and childbirth in Africa alone. Over 40% of African women do not receive prenatal care, and more than half of all deliveries take place at home without medical assistance**. Most of these deaths can be averted by improving access of mothers to skilled attendants and adequate health care facilities. Across Africa, there is a severe shortage of midwives both in terms of numbers and competencies. The “Stand up for African mothers” initiative implemented by Amref aims to bridge this gap by training nurses and midwives using e-learning modules. A blended training program is used by combining conventional classroom training sessions and distance learning modules via computers and mobile phones. This method of teaching causes least disruption to the already strained healthcare facilities which has a deficit of skilled workers. While working on this project, I heard the story of a midwife who prior to being trained by Amref used to leave the newborn babies in a pool of blood while tending to the mothers. Can you imagine the infections the babies can contract in the meanwhile? So what can a skilled midwife bring to the table? Apart from safely delivering babies, a midwife’s duty includes prenatal and postnatal care, counseling of HIV-positive mothers, nutritional education and teaching mothers how to prevent transmission of HIV to their children. Through the program, over 7000 midwives have been trained so far and further 15,000 are targeted to be trained. Indeed, the simplest of things often have the greatest of impact if we see the potential in them.

Check-up being conducted by a Midwife. PC: Standupforafricanmothers.org archives

Check-up being conducted by a Midwife. PC: Standupforafricanmothers.org archives

Amref bus promoting the initiative

Amref bus promoting the initiative

Promotional material for the campaign PC: standupforafricanmothers.org archives

Promotional material for the campaign. PC: Standupforafricanmothers.org archives

Classroom training in session. PC: standupforafricanmothers.org archives

Classroom training in session. PC: standupforafricanmothers.org archives

Note: These programs are being implemented in collaboration with healthcare facilities, corporates, government agencies and the communities.
#DTP3: Diphtheria tetanus toxoid and pertussis
*Source: WHO Immunization, surveillance, assessment and monitoring. Diphtheria tetanus toxoid and pertussis immunization coverage among 1-year olds, 1980-2014 (%): 2014. Available on: http://gamapserver.who.int/gho/interactive_charts/immunization/dpt3/atlas.html
**Source: Standupforafricanmothers.org. If you would like to donate to this initiative, please visit the website for more information.