Using technology to save lives at the community level in Kenya

Published: 25 April 2013

On the occasion of world immunization week and world malaria day on April 25th

Nairobi, 24th April 2013: The extraordinarily rapid spread of mobile telephone use in Africa is nothing but remarkable. It was in Africa in 2001 that mobile phones first outnumbered fixed lines, and by the end of 2012, 70 per cent of Africa’s population was expected to have a mobile phone. Communication has never been so easy and it has opened up new opportunities across the globe.

However, when it comes to using mobile technologies to understand disease trends, African Ministries of Health and their partners have not kept pace. One of the major challenges has been collecting real-time data to provide  health practitioners with the information needed for them to effectively target interventions.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), in collaboration with technical partners, developed a low cost, user-friendly survey methodology that allows data to be collected using inexpensive and widely available mobile phones.

The new system is called Rapid Mobile Phone-based survey (RAMP), which is sufficiently flexible to be used for a range of tasks in many fields. “We are now producing preliminary results within 24 hours and a full draft report of a survey within three days,” says Mac Otten, RAMP developer for IFRC. “This allows us to analyze data quicker with the end result being that we can adapt interventions quicker to the needs of the most vulnerable.”

In Kenya, 35 per cent of children under five are stunted, 16 per cent are underweight and, with a Kenyan woman facing a 1 in 35 risk of maternal death, having the right information at the right time is vital to saving the lives of both mothers and their children.

The Kenya Red Cross used the RAMP survey methodology to better understand the maternal and child health situation in Malindi and Lamu districts on the Coast province. The survey provided an overview of several health related issues, including antenatal and newborn care, immunization, nutrition, malaria, pneumonia and diarrhoea, to guide activities implemented by community-based volunteers.

Africa suffers the highest burden of child deaths at 46 per cent, mainly due to diarrhoea and malaria. Nutritional status is also a critical aspect of child health, with undernourished children suffering a higher risk of mortality due to preventable diseases.

“There hasn’t been a nutrition survey in our project area for a long time,” says Mwanaisha Marusa Hamisi, Assistant Secretary General for Coastal Province, Kenya Red Cross. “Information collected through RAMP allows us to target volunteers’ actions for focused behavioural change communication. For instance, although we expected nutrition to be a real issue in our area, we didn’t know how much the population was affected. Based on the survey results, there will be a strong focus on nutrition as part of our maternal and child health community based programme.”

After a short training period, Red Cross Red Crescent volunteers can conduct surveys and capture data on their mobile phones. They can then upload it to the internet, where managers can access and analyze it. No more having to wait weeks or months for survey results and the data is immediately available for use in decision making.

The Red Cross Red Crescent has been at the forefront of the innovative use of technology for data collection. RAMP pilot projects carried out in 2011 and 2012 are the culmination of years of work in this area. “RAMP is an initiative based on partnership,” says Jason Peat, senior health officer at the IFRC. “WHO and IFRC, with the support of eminent epidemiologists, spent several years developing the concept together.”

The speed, combined with the simple methodology and flexibility in terms of the survey content, are of enormous benefit to health managers and decision-makers. The use and adaptation of existing technology to improve data collection and analysis provides a clear way to enhance programme service delivery to save lives at the community level.

With less than three years before the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) summit in 2015 to assess progress towards set targets, much remains to be done to ensure that integrated health services are provided in an equitable manner, and that populations in hard-to-reach areas have access to health services to improve maternal and child survival.

Governments, donors and aid agencies must work hand-in-hand to focus efforts on high impact, evidence-based interventions in order to more quickly reduce maternal and child mortality and ensure healthy families, communities and countries.

Having timely data to drive decision-making and reduce preventable maternal and child deaths to zero will enhance the global effort to reach the MDG targets.

For further information and to set up interviews contact:

In Nairobi:

  • Aude Galli, advocacy advisor, IFRC East Africa

Mobile: +254 731 984 105 – E-mail : aude.galli@ifrc.org

  • Peter Outa, public relations officer, Kenya Red Cross Society

Mobile : +254 722 483 571 – E-mail: outa.peter@kenyaredcross.org

In Geneva:

  • Ombretta Baggio, health communication officer, IFRC

Mobile: 41 (0)79 708 48 27 – E-mail : ombretta.baggio@ifrc.org

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