Maternal, child and reproductive health (51)

Mali’s infant and maternal mortality rates are among the highest in the world. They’re 196 per thousand people and 464 per hundred thousand live births. On average eight women die every day from pregnancy complications. Part of the Ministry of Health’s response is the use of mobile phones to reinforce the health system in favor of the mother and child unit and to improve the National Health System generally.

The development of Mali’s communications sector has helped to provide a platform for support. Mobile customers increased 14-fold between 2005 and 2011, reaching more than 69%, million by the end of 2011. Mali went from 12th out of 14 countries in the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU) to 8th, and from 41st in Sub-Saharan Africa to 28th.

Today, we tweet, we send SMSs, and we are on Facebook. We experience the indisputable advent of social media in our daily lives, and international experience shows that ICTs, especially mHealth, can help countries’ harmonious development.

This is why Mali’s Ministry of Health, through the Telehealth and Medical Informatics National Agency, deployed a mobile fleet infrastructure of more than six hundred mobile phones, available to health workers in the periphery to support health services. Projects include Pesinet, for malaria, MédiMobile, and other pilot projects.

The projects include monitoring the health of children below the age of 5 and better information sharing on maternal and child deaths. Between January 2012 and March 2013, 11 maternal deaths and 162 child deaths were reported, 73% of these at home, and 27% in health facilities. Over 24,000 cases of malaria in pregnant women were reported, with 670 deaths:  522 children below the age of 5, 145 children over 5 years of age, and 3 pregnant women.

There is a significant improvement of about 91% in data accuracy and completeness compared to data from the National Health Information System that has an equivalent rate of about 40% and doesn’t use mHealth yet.

Mali’s Ministry of Health is keen to extend these positive results and is a key partner in the joint WHO-ITU project on the use of mHealth for Non-Communicable Diseases (NCD). Diseases like diabetes, breast or cervical cancer, hypertension control related to other cardiovascular diseases, prevention of acute attacks in sickle cell and asthma could all benefit from mHealth, to improve care for patients, strengthen the capacity of health professionals, and make the right information available to health authorities to ensure decisions are based on evidence, is the path for all developing countries.

Despite the positive results, challenges remain. Financial resources are limited, managing change is difficult, and there are substantial interoperability issues between the various technology platforms. Mali does not face these challenges alone and values collaboration to learn and share its experiences for the benefit of Africa’s rapidly expanding eHealth and mHealth opportunities.

Samsung is to provide health workers in East Africa with subsidized smartphones as part of its mHealth initiative. The initiative aims to boost maternal health for 15.5 million women across Africa. The partnership driving the initiative is between Samsung and the World Health Organization (WHO) and is already active in Nigeria and South Africa. The initiative will come to East Africa early next year, starting with Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda.

Robert Ngeru, chief operating officer of Samsung East Africa also announced a partnership with Strathmore University on the Doctor Smart Solution Project. It’s a telemedicine initiative that allows patients to perform their own tests and upload the results to a cloud platform. Doctors can then access the results, make diagnoses, and recommend appropriate treatments.

Samsung has made sure the Doctor Smart Solution deals with privacy and security concerns. Any data uploaded to the cloud can only be accessed by patients’ doctors after they’ve entered their secure passwords.

The solution is still at the deployment stage. Once launched, Samsung will initially work with private hospitals to implement the solution but later will incorporate government institutions through the help of African Medical and Research Foundation (AMREF).

Apple’s enigmatic Jack Welch remarked that, “when you become a leader, success is all about growing others”. GE may be applying some of that wisdom in projects helping to reshape healthcare in Africa.

GE’s Healthymagination initiative started in 2009 and aims to develop 100 products or services by 2015 with an investment of $6bn. The goal is to support access, quality and affordability improvements. A recent example is a US$20 million, five-year partnership between the Federal Ministry of Health (MOH), USAID and GE Healthcare, to use Healthymagination to help reduce preventable child-maternal deaths. The partners signed the agreement when they were at the World Economic Forum in Abuja, Nigeria in May.

“The reality that we know today is unacceptable and heartbreaking—as nearly 300,000 mothers and 3 million newborns continue to die every year from causes we know how to prevent.”said USAID Nigeria Mission Director, Michael Harvey according to This Day live. Harvey talks of “partnering to scale up cutting-edge solutions and unlock a brighter future for the next generation of Nigerian leaders, innovators and entrepreneurs.”

The initiative tackles maternal and infant mortality and simultaneously supports the MOH’s Save One Million Lives programme, launched by President Goodluck Jonathan, which will expand access to primary healthcare services for women and children. It brings together:

  • Mobile and alternative health technology, such as GE’s Vscan pocket-sized ultrasound device developed to provide physicians in remote areas with imaging capabilities at points-of-care
  • Task-shifting programmes for nurses and midwives through a focus on training and education
  • Consumer education for pregnant mothers.

President and CEO of GE Healthcare Eastern and Africa Growth Markets, Skander Malcolm said, “We are focused on designing new models of healthcare delivery leveraging affordable technology, a significant focus on training and skills enhancement and nurturing sustainable partnerships.”

Bold corporate leadership is valuable, combined with the type of clinical leadership discussed in eHNA’s Clinical eHealth leaders are essential. It’s success should be measured in benefits for Africa. As Peter Drucker said, “leadership is defined by results not attributes”. GE has partnered with Oxford Analytica to evaluate the new products and services. eHNA will be watching to report on progress as they reach their five-year milestone in 2015.