Kenya: New Mobile App Takes Healthcare Closer to Turkana Residents

Gabriel Echakan, a community health volunteer in Turkana County, is well known as the 'village doctor' by residents of Lorugum village in Loima.

Because of the long distances villagers travel to get to health centres, Mr Echakan has always been the much needed go-between that reaches out to them in the comfort of their own homes.

After receiving training, aided by periodic reassessments and improvement of skills, Mr Echakan and hundreds of other volunteers are making a difference in villages, providing medicine for diseases such as malaria, diarrhoea and malnutrition.

In his work there were many challenges, among them lack of transport.

But that was addressed in June this year when a non-governmental organisation donated 48 bicycles to ease their mobility in Katilu and Turkwel wards.

PanAfricare Organization, through the Bayer Fund-financed Improved Approach to Community-based Nutrition in Turkana (Impact) project, gave the bicycles to ease their movement as they discharge primary health services in villages.

The second challenge was how to relay accurate, timely information on what Mr Echakan and other volunteers found on the ground.

Often, Mr Echakan had to travel to Lorugum Sub-County Hospital to manually hand over data on diseases he had treated as well as the drugs and medical supplies used or required.

"It could take longer to report to the sub-county hospital, especially during the rainy season when seasonal rivers were flooded. Papers could tear when rained on or kept for long," he recalled.

Slowly being addressed

And that problem, too, is slowly being addressed.

The county government has embraced a mobile phone-enabled application to enhance effective information collection and reporting by volunteers to facilitate decision-making and other similar issues.

The volunteers, the health facilities and the county government now bank on mobile technology to review data and take action to prevent stock-outs.

Health Chief Officer Augustine Lokwang said 200 community health volunteers from 17 community units in Loima sub-county have received specially programmed phones for collecting and disseminating community health information.

After three days of training, he said, the volunteers will be introduced to the pilot project by the county government in partnership with In-Supply Health Organization, which is affiliated to USAid/John Snow Inc and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Discovery Center.

The volunteers will be required to take photographs of the filled-out documents and through a hybrid paper-digital productivity system, easily send them to the main system for action.

"The mobile phone app will greatly enhance the quality of data being uploaded into the mainstream Health Information Management System (DHIS) to prompt decision-making," he said.

He noted that the county will seek more partnerships with providers of health digital programmes, including Health-Enet and Save the Children Kenya, to cover the entire county in due course and with more than 3,000 volunteers.

County Community Health Strategy focal person Lucas Edete said the phone application will enhance accountability.

Health-Enet CEO Kenneth Geture said they will also create teams and establish user-friendly dashboards to ensure a thorough quality audit of the data being processed before using it for decision-making.

Community level

Lora Nabwire, the country lead at In-Supply Health, said the organisation is working in Turkana and 10 other counties to enable community health volunteers to better discharge their duties.

The application, she said, also allows for prompt communication with everyone in the supply chain, from the community level to directors.

"The success of the project will provide an opportunity for learning valuable lessons that can be replicated in other counties where the services of volunteers are used to drive the health access," she said.

Health executive Jane Ajele in June said Turkana had recruited more than 3,000 community health volunteers, who are being relied upon for targeted health interventions like immunisation, screening for malnutrition and extracting important information from mothers on common diseases to inform better decisions.

"As a county government, we want to move from treatment or curing diseases and concentrate on prevention," she said.

"That is why we are putting more synergies on the community health volunteers to prevent the diseases at the village level before they spread. We are spending a lot of money to treat our people."

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