Kenya: Using Technology to Save Lives At the Community Level

By Aude Galli:

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.

After a short training period, Red Cross Red Crescent volunteers can conduct surveys and capture data on their mobile phones.

Philip Fondo, a Kenya Red Cross Society volunteer interviewer, says it is exciting to learn more about technology.

"I am now able to collect data with my phone and upload it to the internet immediately, where managers can analyze it. No more having to write pages and pages of data and wait weeks or months for the results to come," he says.

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 the data quicker with the end result being that we can adapt interventions quicker to the needs of the most vulnerable."

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The Kenya Red Cross Society conducted the first RAMP survey in 2011 in Malindi district, and results helped assess the depth and nature of the malaria problem and shape the necessary response.

For Africa, which accounts for more than 90 per cent of malaria deaths worldwide, having sufficient data immediately available can help reverse this trend.

Recent results from the second RAMP survey in the Kenya project are impressive: 90 per cent of households own at least one net and net use is at 80 per cent for the total population. Net distribution, combined with a community approach to malaria treatment called the Home Management of Malaria project, demonstrates that empowering communities to respond comprehensively to malaria is part of the winning formula to beat the disease.

But malaria is not the only problem.

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.

"There hasn't been a nutrition survey in our project area for a long time," says Mwanaisha Marusa Hamisi, Assistant Secretary General for Coast Province, Kenya Red Cross Society. "Although we knew nutrition was an issue, the information collected through RAMP will allow us to better target volunteer actions. We need to tackle specific attitudes and behaviours to achieve results."

The project in Kenya is now moving towards comprehensive maternal and child health actions at the community level to provide broader health services closer to the people who need them most.

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