Kigali — You can meet the most interesting people at conferences. If you can make your way through the sea of people to get to them. The first Africa Health Forum organised by the World Health Organisation African region was no different - hundreds and hundreds of enthusiastic participants filling the Kigali Convention Centre in Rwanda, determined to find their way to universal healthcare (UHC) on the continent.
The forum promised to examine WHO AFRO's vision for health and development across the continent, explore concrete ways for partners to contribute to the work of the organization, meet the challenges that young people face, and provide a platform to talk about innovative strategies for the public health challenges that Africa just can't seem to shake.
Using more technology presents a "big opportunity" for rolling out UHC, Dr Matshidiso Rebecca Moeti, WHO's Africa director, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Moeti described eHealth as key to opening access to health care "faster to the poorest and most vulnerable people". Some countries, like Rwanda, have already introduced electronic records and a national reporting system in their government health departments.
At the conference in Kigali, I needed my own electronic door opener. I needed to make my way through the sea and find people whose stories need telling - during the conference, but also down the long road to achieving all the goals they set for themselves.
Conference tech app saved my day
It seemed like an overwhelming task, but technology saved the day. Yes, I said 'technology' - the very thing that people will tell you doesn't facilitate conversations IRL [in real life].
Twitter was a good starting point. I was tweeting some of the exciting statements and questions being posed to allAfrica's account.
But live tweeting - it's not that easy, even in a city like Kigali where bandwidth is good. You must find compelling things to communicate. Searching on hashtags #WHOAHF and #PuttingPeopleFirst helps. Following @WHOAFRO was a no-brainer.
The challenge is how to make contact with particular people among the hundreds of participants without wading through crowds with your business-card hand outstretched?
Introducing the WHO AHF 2017 App, which lists all the speakers for the forum, the schedule, an interactive map, and most importantly - for me anyway - private messages with participants registered on the App.
It's how I made contact with Thoko Pooley from Uniting to Combat NTDs, after several failed attempts to meet in that sea of people at the Kigali Convention Centre. And that's just for starters - as long as I'm signed in to the App, I have continued access to people - about 700 of them - who attended the first-of-its-kind forum.
Watch more videos from the First Africa Health Forum held in Kigali: