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05.18 2015

In The Lion’s Den: Evaluating Africa’s Most Innovative mHealth Solutions

Using mobile technology is a key component in USAID’s strategy to end preventable maternal and child deaths, called Acting on the Call . According to USAID, by using mobile technology to accelerate our rate of progress, we can save the lives of 15 million children and almost 600,000 women by 2020.  For the past four days, I’ve had the opportunity to explore how other countries and organizations are approaching this goal at the Africa Regional Meeting on Digital Health for Overcoming Barriers to Ending Preventable Child and Maternal Deaths and Achieving Universal Health Coverage.

According to USAID, by using mobile technology to accelerate our rate of progress, we can save the lives of 15 million children and almost 600,000 women by 2020.

poster

This meeting, (#DH4Africa) has become an annual gathering to explore how digital technology can impact health outcomes. The first meeting was held in Kigali in 2010, with subsequent gatherings in cities across Africa including Dar es Salaam, Addis Ababa, and this year in Lilongwe, Malawi. Over 15 African nations convened – including government leaders, NGOs, bilateral agencies, donors, and the private sector – to facilitate learning, share our work, ideas and questions around the most promising programs and influences to scaling high impact, evidence based interventions like Chipatala cha pa Foni (CCPF), or “Health Center by Phone”.

 

presentation at Africa regional mHealth meeting

The highlight of the conference for me was presenting CCPF in a “Shark Tank” or “lion’s den” style format, where leaders across sectors listened to our “pitch,” and then asked questions designed to challenge our models, strategies and perceptions in order to bring forth an honest dialogue about how best to support successful innovations. I appreciated the questions raised to me and my colleagues – such as:

  • How best can we measure the health impacts attributable to mhealth solutions?
  • Many mHealth solutions serve to increase the demand for and access to health services, but what impact can we have on improving and increasing the quality and quantity of the supply
  • How can we strengthen health system capacity to manage the demand we generate?
  • When building private public partnerships, what more can we ask for besides discounted services or fees?
  • How do we ensure that we can provide our partners with as much as we hope to get?

I thought this conference was very helpful because it supports our efforts as mHealth players to convince policy makers and other partners on the value of mHealth solutions, and how mHealth can greatly improve health service delivery in Malawi. The conference also offered mHealth players a chance to share experiences, lessons learned and to interact with mHealth experts. The forum  provided an opportunity for VillageReach to showcase Chipatala Cha pa Foni in order to generate the necessary support to scale up the service nationally.

 …there is need for government to identify their priorities, put in place policies and standards that all mHealth players should follow, and to foster interoperability and public-private partnerships if we are to maximize the potential that mHealth has

Closing thoughts… Africa still faces challenges in reducing maternal and child morbidity and mortality rates and requires innovative solutions in order to reverse the situation- mHealth is a viable solution; however, there is need for government to identify their priorities, put in place policies and standards that all mHealth players should follow, and to foster interoperability and public-private partnerships if we are to maximize the potential that mHealth has in improving health service delivery.


mHealth award VillageReach

VillageReach Project Manager, Zachariah Jezman with Mrs. Fannie Kachale, Director of the Reproductive Health Unit, Malawi Ministry of Health

Zachariah Jezman and VillageReach placed 2nd in the overall “Lion’s Den” presentations at the Africa Regional Meeting on Digital Health, as mentioned above, receiving an award for innovative business plan and strategy.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR Zachariah Jezman is a Project Manager of the Maternal, Newborn, and Child Health Innovations Project. Jezman comes to VillageReach with years of professional community health experience and clinical expertise.

Prior to his work with VillageReach, Jezman worked on a variety of community health programs with groups such as the Clinton Foundation, Johns Hopkins, NANM, and the Mulanje College of Nursing. Jezman holds  a Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing from the Kamuzu College of Nursing. He is registered with the Nurses and Midwives Council of Malawi, a standing committee member of the National Organization of Nurses of Malawi and a member of the Copyright Association of Malawi.

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Malawi healthcare worker