Kenya’s Felix Kimaru and his friends at Totohealth, a social enterprise applying affordable and innovative mobile technology tools to address the high maternal and newborn mortality rates in Kenya, realized that living with a disabled child can have profound effects on the entire family–parents, siblings, and extended family members.
Apart from social, psychological and emotional demands associated with it, the time and financial costs, physical and logistical complexities associated with raising a disabled child can have far-reaching effects. Worse still, the vast majority of Africans with disabilities are excluded from schools and opportunities for work, virtually guaranteeing that they live as the poorest of the poor.
Families don’t have to live this way.
Early interventions that provide therapeutic, educational, and case management services from infancy through age 2 for children with, or at risk for, developmental delays can help alliavaite deformity.
“Vaccination, adequate intake of folic acid and iodine, and adequate antenatal care are keys for prevention during pregnancy,” Kimaru tells TechMoran. “Given that more than 70% of Kenyans own a mobile phone (a number estimated to grow to 90% by 2015), we knew that mobile technology could be the perfect platform to help in detecting disabilities and empowering households with relevant information so as to strengthen healthcare systems within the marginalized, remote and vulnerable populations.”
Totohealth is setting off on a journey to revolutionize detecting disabilities and empowering households with information with a simple idea: monitor set of Totohealth’s SMS-based indicators of growth abnormalities and allowing guardians for the child to report against the indicators thereby enabling Totohealth to highlight growth abnormalities that may lead to disabilities.
The automated system keeps track of each child’s age or stage of pregnancy to enabling targeted and timely flow of information to each parent/guardian. To ensure that the marginalized are covered, the platform adjusts itself to the local language the parent or guardian understands.
Totohealth’s robust SMS and Voice based platform allows the parent to also receive timely guidance and evident-based approaches to improve the health of pregnancy and also the child regardless of the type of phone the parent or caregiver has. This is geared towards prevention of cases of disabilities and maternal and under-5 deaths. Totohealth is targeting expectant mothers and parents with kids less than 5 years.
According to Kimaru, the consumption and delivery of health-related services via mobile communication devices, known as mHealth, is fast becoming an essential component of global health. This is because Kenya and Africa as a whole faces a lot of health challenges. It is by this reason that many organizations and individuals are coming up with mobile health solutions that are aimed at solving different challenges in the health sector. The national health community is still not enjoying unprecedented levels of scientific knowledge and technical ability, and the rapid expansion of mobile technology.
Kimaru adds that mHealth applications in Kenya cut across the entire healthcare value chain from mobile phone based messaging that promotes demand and utilization of health services and products such as Village Reach; mobile phone based point of care support tools for health workers (e.g., Checklist and protocols such as Swiftboard; Mobile phone technologies used to monitor essential commodities to cut down the number of counterfeits on the market (e.g., mobile based bar code system) such as Sproxil and evidence based mHealth solutions that identify where stock-outs are occurring and improve forecasts. (e.g., Supply chain management such as SMS for Life.
Lastly, Kimaru says the use of mobile phone based technologies to remove and/or address financial barriers such as Changamka.
However, the mobile-based solutions also face some challenges.
“Maternal Health and Health in general is majorly funded by grants,” narrates Kimaru.” We have made huge strides as far as health is concerned but the challenge is sustainability. Most of the solutions and initiatives within the health sector are not sustainable. Social enterprises like Totohealth are trying to make the solutions sustainable by finding business models that are not only practical but promises a continuous source of revenue over a long period of time.”
The second biggest challenge according to him is the mentality around who is responsible for a healthy nation and individuals. “Preventive health in 3rd world countries is still far from being realized. This is because in 3rd world countries there is a perception that the government or NGO’s is responsible for the health of its citizens,” says Kimaru. “The very reason why you don’t see most people investing in medical insurance, eating healthy foods and living a healthy life. Individual health in Kenya is not yet a patient responsibility but the government’s. mHealth Solutions like Changamka are promising to transform this notion by offering affordable health insurance to the marginalized communities.”
mHealth has already proved to have an important position in tackling most of the Africa’s greatest health problems. The challenge now is on the health care providers and beneficiaries to solidify its role and building more solid foundations upon which further applications can be strategically developed.
The scaling up of mHealth is crucial if the smaller solutions which record success can be translated into widespread use and improvements. The bold potential of health and solid impacts evidenced by these applications means that future for effective mass healthcare in sub-Saharan Africa is looking increasingly mobile.
Totohealth aims to help parents receive targeted and action oriented SMS messages with dates for important vaccination dates, signs and milestones in the child’s health and ability to connect mothers with local hospitals. Totohealth SMS’s predict warning signs in kids, dispel myths, give nutritional advice, teach parents on reproductive health, just inform, refer them to the right doctors and clinics near them, remind them to go for vaccination and clinics and also set appointments with doctors or nurses.
Another similar project is Mommy Book app launched recently in Kenya.