Gontse Ramela

Acfee Intern

  • Kenya accesses ConnectMed’s telemedicine services

    Launched in 2015, ConnectMed, a South African eHealth start-up, has now launched operations in Kenya. Its aim’s to provide affordable medical advice to patients outside a healthcare setting. It’s gained recognition after being chosen as five winners in the 2016 DEMO Africa start-up pitching event, then its recent involvement in the Lions@frica Innovation Tour in Silicon Valley.

    ConnectMed’s mainly for middle and upper incomers who have easy access to Internet-enabled devices and use private healthcare. However, it’s been successful in Kenya’s rural areas and big cities. During trials in Kenya, it became evident that elderly patients who found it challenging to travel for sexual and mental health advice had adopted the platform.

    The start-up gives patients a platform to schedule a secure virtual 15 minutes access from 8am to 11pm, seven days a week. Users can set appointments with doctors for the same day over a video for common ailments. These are either directly through ConnectMed Prime or indirectly through clinic partners ConnectMed Care.

    Like most of Africa, Kenya’s healthcare relies on insufficient doctors, is inaccessible to many communities, has high travelling costs and limited available hours. The virtual doctor services aim to deliver scalable healthcare to solve these challenges.

    At least 50 doctors licensed by the Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentists Board (KMPDU) have signed onto the platform. They can provide ePrescriptions, sick notes or referral letters. ConnectMed patients are given discounts on medication and follow-on services from service partners.

    An article on eHealth news says ConnectMed also offers an enterprise solution suitable for clinics experiencing a shortage of doctors. It enables clinics to treat more patients and improves the medical skills of existing staff. Melissa McCoy, CEO of ConnectMed said to Demo-Africa that the company plans to establish physical hubs in cyber-cafes and pharmacies where the general public can access its health information. It may not be long before its available across most of Africa.

  • SANAC looks to eHealth to help combat HIV, TB and STIs

    South African National AIDS Council (SANAC) is a voluntary association of institutions established by the national cabinet of the South African Government that embodies the government, private sector and civil society to build a controlled and coordinated response to the HIV, TB and STIs. It's not restricted to AIDS response challenges. Its obligations cover STIs and TB, both of which are associated with HIV and AIDS. SANAC advises the government on related HIV, TB and STI strategies and policies, mobilises resources domestically and internationally to finance projects and monitors progress against targets in the National Strategic Plan (NSP) for HIV and AIDS, TB and STIs (2017-2020)

    A key focus is working towards the UN 90-90-90 goals i.e. to provide 90% of people with an HIV diagnosis (including 175 000 children) antiretroviral therapy and ensure that 90% of them (including 158 000 children) achieve HIV viral suppression, and attain a 90% treatment success rate for drug-sensitive and 70% for multi-drug resistant TB. 

    SANAC has an ambitious software development programme underway to build tools to support people working locally to combat HIV and AIDS. One of these projects provides a web-application in support of the Focus for Impact approach defined in the NSP. Health Information System Program South Africa (HISP-SA) has partnered with SANAC to build a web-tool that produces heat-maps that show high burden areas and associated factors affect different communities. It is already supporting decision-making for coordination of interventions planned locally. HISP's Greg Rowles and Jaco Venter have built the technical aspects, for SANAC. The team was led by SANAC's Petro Rousseau.

    SANAC has set eight NSP goals, each supported by clear objectives and sub-objectives and activities to realise them:

    • Accelerate prevention to reduce new HIV and TB infections and STIs 
    • Reduce morbidity and mortality by providing HIV, TB and STI treatment, care and adherence support for all
    • Reach all key and vulnerable populations with customised and targeted interventions
    • Address the social and structural drivers of HIV, TB and STIs, and link these e orts to the NDP 
    • Ground the response to HIV, TB and STIs in human rights principles and approaches
    • Promote leadership and shared accountability for a sustainable response to HIV, TB and STIs 
    • Mobilise resources to support the achievement of NSP goals and ensure a sustainable response 
    • Strengthen strategic information to drive progress towards achievement of the NSP goals 

    Thursday 13 July, SANAC's Petro Rousseau and Western Cape's Robin Dyers presented on GIS and HIV at ESRI's Applying the Science of Where Users Conference in San Diego. HISP's Jaco Venter was also there as technical support to the team.

  • Bouy determines a person’s medical condition

    Doctors and computer scientists in Boston and New York have developed Buoy, a free AI platform. It helps people to use their symptoms to determine their medical conditions and make better decisions. The eHealth tool began in 2014 at the Innovation Laboratory at Harvard. Buoy’s co- founder and CEO, Andrew Le says currently, medical information provided by simplistic web symptom checkers are often risky and unreliable. To overcome these limitations, Buoy leverages advanced machine learning algorithms to provide personalised and accurate analyses and diagnoses to users so they can quickly and easily have more control of their healthcare.

    Bouy asks users to enter their ages, genders, and symptoms. It then asks a few questions, such as the severity of their symptoms and their durations. It uses this information to analyse against millions of medical records to generate other important, more specific questions. After two to three minutes of analysis, Buoy has an accurate and detailed understanding of users’ conditions. It will then recommend appropriate healthcare alternatives. If immediate treatment’s needed, it provides directions on how to connect with a nearby healthcare providers.

    An article in eHealth news says Bouy’s been through a battery of quality control tests. The result’s that it can accurately analyse a wide range of symptoms, such as common colds, abdominal pains and how a change of running shoes has created muscular or skeletal issues.

    The study tried to determine how Buoy interprets a cough compared the top five web-based symptom checkers. It examined 100 standardised cases involving 33 different diagnoses with severity ranging from life-threatening pulmonary embolisma to benign, normal cough. Prevalence was assessed too, ranging from rare histoplasmosis to common cold. Results were that Buoy’s analyses were 92% accurate as compared to WebMD at 56%, Healthline at 53%, Mayo Clinic at 38% and Isabel at 28%. Buoy has over 5,000 users and is available as an app on Apple store and directly from Buoy.

  • Vodacom Siyakha launches mHealth for expecting mothers

    Siyakha means ‘we are building’ in isiZulu. It’s also a platform used by Vodacom South Africa, and offers prepaid customers free access to a range of zero-rated sites, including:

    • Vodacom insurance products
    • Free health content from the TV series Hello Doctor
    • Vodacom’s infotainment platform Video Play
    • Educational portals and careers and jobs websites.

    Vodacom Siyakha has an mHealth service for pregnant mothers too.  Mum and Baby builds on Siyakha’s health service to offer maternal support to pregnant mothers. It provides educational articles videos and health information containing stage-based pregnancy information and advice. An article in IT News Africa says Mum and Bay also provides free health information and videos for childhood development too, extending across children’s first five years. Expecting mothers receive three weekly SMS’s to keep them undated on the progress of their pregnancies. These videos and SMS’s cover a range of health topics including:

    • Sexual and reproductive health
    • Breastfeeding
    • Immunisation
    • Early childhood development
    • Mother and child bonding
    • Nutrition
    • HIV/AIDS.

    A publication at My News Room, says Mum and Baby’s available in several languages, making it more accessible. The solution targets expectant mothers who lack easy access to healthcare facilities, It can be used by family caregivers too, who’ll be empowered with information and tools to use in their daily work setting.

    Vodacom customers can access Mum and Baby by dialing *111*88#, a prepaid number, or visiting the Siyakha mobi site.

  • mHealth to test male fertility

    Infertility’s an important health challenge. Globally about 15%, 48.5 million, couples are affected by infertility. A study shows that underlying fertility issues are often associated with sperm abnormalities. A unique view on male infertility around the globe says that social stigma and lack of access to testing meant that many men never pursue diagnosis evaluation.

    Researchers at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Massachusetts  have developed an mHealth device that can accurately diagnose mens fertility by testing sperm counts. The innovative smartphone app and device pairing is fast, highly accurate and affordable.  It could become as prevalent for male fertility tests as the at-home pregnancy test is for women.

    A device for semen analysis and rapid infertility diagnostics attaches to a smartphone to count sperm numbers and measure motility, the markers for infertility. Fortune publications has reported that the combination can accurately measure sperm concentration and linear and curvilinear velocities using a small volume, less than 35 ?l, of unwashed, unprocessed semen samples. Using the solution requires drawing semen samples into disposable microchips plugged into the side of  phones’ attachments, similar to a USB. In less than five seconds, analysed results are displayed on the screen.

    Recently, the mHealth device was tested in comparison to lab equipment. Results in the journal Science Translational Medicine show 350 semen samples of both infertile and fertile men were analysed and found to be 98% accurate in identifying abnormal sperm samples. The device could also help to test sperm count of men who recently underwent a vasectomy to determine if the procedure was successful.

    The team’s currently performing additional tests to gain approval by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). An article on ehealth news says the device will cost about US$50 when it’s ready to go to market.

  • AI and Big Data will transform healthcare

    There’s a substantial progression of digital capacity in which data is produced and stored. In 2013, the amount of available digital data encompassed 4.4 zettabytes and it is estimated to reach 44 zettabytes, which is 44 trillion gigabytes, or ten times more by 2020. There is no denying that the world of Big Data’s enormous. Healthcare’s challenge is how to make best use of it.

     Artificial intelligence (AI) is a vital and increasing part of it. It’s quickly becoming a necessity for healthcare. AI’s already widely used in everyday life. It’s in cars, Google searches, Amazon suggestions and other devices, but is yet to extend towards large-scale, routine AI for sophisticated activities such as healthcare and its clinical decisions.

    AI services such as Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana, Google’s OK Google, and Amazon’s Echo can extract questions from speech using natural-language processing and perform limited set of useful things, such as looking for restaurants, provide  directions, find an open slot for a meeting, or run a simple web search. In addition, a 19-year-old British programmer launched a bot last September which is successfully helping people to appeal their parking tickets. It’s an “AI lawyer” that sorts received parking tickets. In both London and New York, the bot has a success rate of 64%, which translate to 160,000 of 250,000 parking tickets successfully appealed.

    The same efficiency is essential in healthcare. An article in Medical Futurist reports that in years to come, AI in healthcare and medicine may organise patient pathways and treatment plans, and provide doctors with all information they need to make better informed decision. Several companies have a stake in AI in healthcare. They include Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Apple, Hitachi Data Systems, Luminoso, Alchemy API, Digital Reasoning, Highspot, Lumiata, Sentient Technologies, Enterra, IPSoft and Next IT. Their ultimate goal is to transform medicine and healthcare in way that ensures that it’s widely available to the average, mainstream users and not only the richest medial institutions or to a handful of experts.

    AI’s used in several areas in healthcare. It includes mining medical records, designing of medical plans and medication management. Googles AI research branch in cooperation with the Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust in London has launched a Google Deepmind Health project. It mines medical records to help to provide better and faster health services.

    This year, a British subscription, online medical consultation and health service launched Babylon. It offers medical AI consultation based on personal medical history and common medical knowledge. Users report the symptoms of their illness to the app, which checks them against a database of diseases using speech recognition. After taking into account the patients’ histories and circumstances, Babylon offers appropriate courses of action. The app also reminds patients to take their medication and finds out how they’re feeling.

    Molly was the first virtual nurse developed by Sense.ly, a medical start-up. It aims to help people to monitor their condition and treatment. Nurses use machine learning to support patients with chronic conditions in-between doctor’s visits. Customised monitoring and follow-up care is part of its service too, with a strong focus on chronic diseases.

    The AiCure app maintained by The National Institutes of Health monitors patients’ medication compliance. It uses a smartphone’s webcam and AI to confirm patients’ medication ingestion and helps them to manage their conditions.

    AI still has a long way to go. It will be exciting to see how Africa’s health systems adopt it in their eHealth strategies and use it to transform health and healthcare.

  • AI predicts heart failure

    Heart failure’s not always easy to predict. CADence, described in eHNA post, shows how difficult it can be and how eHealth can help. Now, Artificial Intelligence (AI) can help too. It can save lives by identifying patients who need more aggressive treatment, says the UK's Medical Research Council (MRC) team in an article in BBC News. Technology’s advanced so much that AI can now calculate accurately when patients with heart disorders will die. The software can to do this by analysing blood tests and scans of beating hearts to spot signs that show they’re about to fail.  

     Researchers, at the MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences, were investigating patients with pulmonary hypertension, raised blood pressure in arteries supplying the lungs. Results indicate that high blood pressure in the lungs damages part of the heart, and about a third of patients die within five years of being diagnosed.  

    The AI software helps doctors to predict how long the patients will live. The data improves informed clinical decisions, leading to more precisely prescribed and individually tailored intensive treatments, such as drugs, injections into blood vessels or in extreme cases, lung transplants if necessary.  

    The AI was given MRI scans of 256 patients' hearts, and blood test results. The software measured movement of 30,000 different points in the hearts’ structures during each heartbeat. Data was coupled with eight years of patient’s health records. AI learned which abnormalities predicted when patients would die.

    It estimated up to approximately five years into the future, with an 80% potential to predict whether people would live beyond a year.  This’s a third better than doctors performance of 60% accuracy.  Researches want to use AI for other forms of heart failure such as cardiomyopathy, diseased of heart muscles, to see who needs pacemakers or supplementary treatments. They also hope to test AI on other patients in several hospitals to assess whether it should be widely available to doctors.

    eHNA’s previously posted about AI revolutionising healthcare. Pulmonary hypertension might be a good place for Africa’s health systems to start.

  • Kenya’s cancer screening app ETiCCS’s now available

    Cervical cancer is the second most common cause of death for women worldwide. In Kenya, it’s the leading cause of death for women of reproductive age.  Kenyan Network of Cancer Organizations says there are approximately 39,000 new cases of cancer each year in Kenya, leading to more than 27,000 deaths. The star has a report estimating increases in cervical cancers cases from 3,000 to 4,200 by 2025. It’s largely due to lack of access to healthcare resources and treatments.

    To address this gap and improve the quality of life among women in Africa, and particularly Kenya, the SAP’s Design and Co-Innovation Center together with Heidelberg University Hospital has optimised a cervical cancer screening test that combines practical medical research with cloud technology from SAP. The digitised screening test, called Emerging Technologies in Cervical Cancer Screening (ETiCCS) strives to support the fight against cancer in developing countries.

    An article in IT online reports that ETiCCS was piloted during a one-year study, which tested 800 women at the Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital in Eldoret, Kenya. The program is ongoing and SAP East Africa plans to include the countrywide self-sampling and IoT scenarios, deep learning, pattern recognition, remote diagnostics support and validation into the program. SAP East Africa will collaborate with technology including SAP HANA Cloud Platform, as development continues SAP HANA Cloud allows seamless communication between healthcare providers including those in remote areas and environments with unstable Internet connectivity.

    The technology will allow the healthcare screening services to:

    1. Keep medical records safely stored in the cloud providing instant access to results. Enabling labs to accelerate the screening process and empower medical staff through improved quality control embedded in the screening process
    2.  Enforce compliance with data privacy and security requirements, meaning labs can make informed diagnoses regardless of location or region
    3. Enable healthcare professionals to uncover critical patient insights and adapt the solution to other screening processes and field research.

    The ETiCCS program has already enabled hundreds of women in Kenya access to screening for cervical cancer.

  • South Africa’s mHealth to help prevent malaria

    Malaria continues to be a global public health problem. Statistics from the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that 3.2 billion people living in 106 countries and territories are at risk of malaria transmission. In 2015, approximately 214 million clinical episodes and 438, 000 malaria deaths were recorded according to the World Malaria Report 2015.

    The World Bank has estimated that in Africa, half the population may be at risk, with 47% exposed to medium and high risk. To address the challenge, a report from the University of Pretoria says researchers at the Institute for Sustainable Malaria Control (UP ISMC) use satellite data to predict malaria outbreaks and mHealth to control and monitor the disease. The predicting techniques include Geographical Information Systems (GIS) and satellite imaging to detect environmental factors associated with emerging malaria risks. The team uses the data to improve the accuracy and reliability of predicted malaria outbreaks. The forecasts can look ahead by as much as three to six months. Predications have proven accurate, and shown to be 90% effective.

    In 2015, UP ISMC in collaboration with French National Centre for Space Studies, the South African National Space Agency, South African Weather Service and other stakeholders initiated the Remote Sensing for Malaria Control in Africa Programme. It uses satellites to collect data on variables that associated with malaria, and carried out in the northern part of the Vhembe district, Limpopo province, across the border in Matabeleland South province and in Zimbabwe. It’s being extended to Maputo, Mozambique, particularly in Namaacha near the Swaziland, Mozambique and South African borders. This means that malaria outbreaks can be detected and early-warning systems triggered to aid in the fight against malaria.

    An article in eHealthNews says UP ISMC uses mSpray and Malaria Buddy apps. Malaria Buddy, avails data on malaria risk, prevention and symptoms for travellers in areas where malaria’s endemic.  mSpray focuses on malaria control data management for annual indoor residual spraying programmes, a chosen method for malaria control in locations at risk. Previously, during malaria seasons, spray workers would go into homes and spray walls manually. However, there was no clear database recording on the substances used and no centralised digital database to access to establish if spraying was effective and safe. The new malaria programme hopes to address many of these shortfalls.

  • mHealth improves access to essential medicines in Nigeria

    Tracking and stocking essential medication are challenges for many African countries. People living in rural areas often don’t have access to primary health care facilities, and even if they do, facilities frequently run out of essential medicines. To address this problem, Kaduna State Ministry of Health, the third most populous region in Nigeria, Vodacom and Novartis have implemented SMS for Life 2.0, an mHealth programme.

    SMS for Life 2.0 isn't a new concept. It builds on the SMS for Life programme launched by Novartis in 2009, which used cell phones to manage stock-outs of malaria medicines in more than 10,000 healthcare facilities across sub-Saharan countries says an article in eHealthNews.

    Pharmi web has the Novartis press release. It says SMS for Life 2.0 uses smartphones and tablet computers to improve access to medicines and increase disease surveillance, helping to provide better care for patients. It also builds on its success and introduced eLearning for local health workers.

    SMS for Life 2.0 allows healthcare workers to track stock levels for  HIV, TB and leprosy treatments, and antimalarial vaccinations. It also allows them to send notifications to district medical officers when stock levels are low, ensuring adequate and timely supplies of all essential medicines.

    SMS for Life 2.0 will also:

    1. Monitor disease surveillance parameters of maternal and infants deaths, malaria, yellow fever and cholera
    2. Improve stock visibility which will improve supply chain management, by allowing authorities to improve demand forecasts for the treatments
    3. Facilitate health workers’ training in local facilities using eLearning modules
    4. Improve healthcare by better access to essential medicines so reducing disease prevalence in communities

    Zambia’s Ministry of Health has recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Novartis to roll out SMS for Life 2.0 to some 2,000 health facilities. It’ll start in 2017.