Kenya: How Kisumu Turned the Tide On Covid-19 Using Technology

Kisumu County has been flagged as a Covid-19 hotspot in recent months and this has proved to be a huge task for local authorities in containing the situation.

But thanks to a surveillance app developed at the onset of the pandemic last year, the county can track the contacts of infected patients and deploy strategies to curb the spread of infections.

The Covid DX App was developed by Pharm Access in May 2020 and launched by Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe during a visit to Kisumu. It was intended to provide consistent and timely data on infections.

After a successful pilot study in 29 hospitals in Kisumu, county health officials decided to invest in the app in May 2021 to help in Covid-19 surveillance.

The app has played a major role in public health surveillance by monitoring test results on time, leading to instant action, said health director Fredrick Oluoch.

"As the tests are being run, we can see the numbers per sub-counties, as they test and load. We don't have to wait for the official communication by the Health CS as we would do before we had the application," he said.

The app, currently being used only in Kisumu County, allows health workers to enter the details of patients infected or suspected to be Covid-19-positive.

Through this, the county can access data on new cases every five minutes and see the number of those infected after vaccination, Covid-19 hotspots, allowing the health director to monitor tests being performed in all 19 health facilities that offer such tests.

With the help of the surveillance app, the county has been able to keep constant and updated records of infections and send in more experts to intervene when there is cause for alarm, as was the case in Seme and Kisumu East sub-counties.

It came in handy when authorities in Kisumu were facing the momentous task of containing t infections in recent months.

In May, 13 lake region counties were declared Covid-19 hotspots, with the lakeside city recording almost a third of Covid-19 infections nationally as reported by the Health Cabinet secretary back then.

By mid-June, the county had recorded over 4,000 cases, with 3,000 of the new cases reported over just seven days.

Channelling the right resources

The surge in infections prompted the government to impose stricter Covid-19 containment measures in the lake region on June 17.

At the time movement was restricted, Kisumu County had recorded 5,381 cases since the onset of the pandemic in March 2020.

Using the app, the county is tracking patients' contacts, channelling the right resources to disease hotspots and making proper decisions, unlike in the past when the data entry was made manually, slowly and would end up with errors.

By July 19, Kisumu had managed to contain the disease as the positivity rate stood at 8.7 percent while total infections were 6,253.

"We had also tested 55,757 people while the mortality rate was at 3 percent," said Mr Oluoch, the health director.

By August 2, the county's positivity rate was put at 6 percent with the help of constant statistics supplied by the app.

The Covid DX App was specifically developed to provide digitally updated and timely data to enable policymakers to make proper decisions concerning the pandemic, said Pharm Access Kisumu project manager Mr Emmanuel Milimo.

"Both the health workers and the policymakers can easily access data and see the Covid-19 situation in the county in real time and make strategic decisions before it is late," he said.

The app provides new data on Covid-19 in the entire county every five minutes, enabling experts to adopt containment measures in specific sub-counties and among locals.

Once Pharm Access developed the app in May 2020, it conducted a pilot study in 29 public and private health centres in Kisumu to monitor how the application worked.

Just as the company was ready to wrap up its services following a successful pilot study, the county health department approached the experts seeking to have the app installed in various hospitals to allow timely data collection.

Pharm Access made available the tablets used to monitor the disease in 19 health care centres.

The application's dashboard

To run, the app requires a good internet connection to allow the submission of data to the dashboard.

"Once a patient walks into our health centres, they are cross-examined by doctors and if they display symptoms similar to Covid-19, we key in their profile details on the app dashboard," explained Elias Otieno, an ICT expert at Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Teaching and Referral Hospital.

The data entered includes the patient's name, symptoms, sub-county, location, village and recent places she or he might have visited.

The patient is then admitted for the Covid-19 test and once the results are out, ICT experts enter their details indicating if they are positive or negative.

The data is then submitted to the application's dashboard, allowing health workers and policymakers to access the information.

The app then automatically displays the statistics of patients tested over the last five minutes, and the numbers of those who tested positive and negative, including those already vaccinated.

"It also shows the statistics on infections in every sub-county and the Covid-19 hotspots, enabling us to know where we need to employ more health workers, where we need more testing kits and the vaccine take up," Mr Oluoch said.

"With the patient profile, it is easier to track the contacts of an infected patient by notifying the health centres closer to them, have them tested and quarantined before it is late."

Before the app was invented, healthcare workers had a hard time collecting data on infections manually, which was cumbersome and would lead to delayed updates.

"We would be forced to note down the patient's data manually and later on feed them to our computers, which would lead to delays," Mr Otieno said.

"With the help of the app, however, we are now able to key in the data directly during an encounter with a patient and submit the data to the dashboard within minutes."

The county is working to ensure the app is made available in all the Lake Region Economic Bloc countries, especially those still recording high numbers of infections.

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