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How the Mobile Health Platform gives hope to HIV-positive babies for a normal life

HIV-positive woman gives birth to a baby boy in rural Kenya.

December 1, 2011

An HIV-positive woman gives birth to a baby boy in rural Kenya. At six-weeks-old, she takes him to the local health center for his first HIV test. At the severely understaffed facility, the mother and her son wait the entire day before he is given the test, and they leave for home. It may be up to three months before they receive the results.

Sadly, 3 months later, the results reach the health center with a devastating diagnosis: the baby is HIV-positive. At this stage, he is almost certain to die before his second birthday because the start of his treatment was so delayed. Had he received the test results and appropriate treatment within a few weeks of their health center visit, the boy would have a chance to lead a relatively normal life.

Working with the local health authorities and our member organization CARE, NetHope recognizes the importance of timeliness in a situation like this. Healthcare outcomes could improve dramatically if data collection and communication are conducted in a faster and more effective way. Right now, HIV tests results are determined using very expensive machines that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.  Nationwide, Kenya only has three labs equipped with these machines. The delay of reporting test results is caused by logistics issues of moving the paperwork from the health center to the lab, and back.

NetHope and a corporate partner teamed up with the member organization CARE to implement an ICT solution that would dramatically reduce the test reporting timeline. CARE, NetHope, CDC and the Kenyan Ministry of Health implemented a solution based on technologies already in place: the combination of affordable mobile phones already in people’s pockets combined with “cloud computing”.

The current paper based process is taking too long; there had to be a way to quickly provide test results back to the health center using mobile phones, text messaging and the global Internet.

The Mobile Health Platform’s (MHP) objective is to replace pen-and-paper based methods of collecting health-related data with a scalable platform capable of gathering data and delivering information using inexpensive, mobile devices. The technology trialed in Kenya allows an unlimited number of powerful backend applications to simultaneously be available on affordable mid-range phones with an Internet connection. If required, data could also be collected and information delivered via SMS / text messaging.

Healthcare workers can enter data using their mobile phone and immediately submit the information to a central server, avoiding the logistical complications of physically delivering their patients’ information on paper forms. Using the MHP CARE can collect, recall and analyze data instantly.  Previously it took 15 days to produce monthly activity reports, but now such reports could be available within a few hours.

NGOs, the Ministry of Health, CDC or any other organization have the ability to access the MHP using a PC with a web browser to create local solutions to local problems. Subject matter experts can author their own forms, specifying questions to be asked and structuring overall workflows. Such customized solutions can be instantly accessed on any of the facility’s MHP-outfitted mobile phones.

Through this project, NetHope helped create an ICT solution that reduced the timeline of HIV test results reporting from three months to two weeks. This life-saving concept can be reapplied well beyond healthcare to solve challenges in areas such as education, agriculture and finance.  Thus supporting NetHope’s mission to assist our member organizations as they improve lives in the developing world.

Photo by: Brendan Bannon
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