Lesson from Kenya: Apps can save lives
The power of mHealth was on full display at HIMSS 14, thanks to Donato Tramuto and “the Martin Luther King of Africa.”
Tramuto, the founder, chairman and CEO of Physicians Interactive, presided over an emotional session this past week titled “Apps Save Lives: How mHealth Technology Improves Healthcare Quality Worldwide.” His co-presenter was Milton Ochieng’, whose Lwala Community Hospital and Lwala Community Alliance in Kenya have come to symbolize the ability of mHealth to affect change in the Third World.
Ochieng’ has used iPads loaded with healthcare content to train and teach doctors, nurses and community health workers in his hometown, where he built the region’s first health clinic in 2007 and, later, a hospital. Since then, the region has seen its infant mortality rate decline sharply, with the percentage of women having children in a health facility rising from just 26 percent prior to 2011 to 96 percent in 2013.
The country’s average in 2013, by the way, was 47 percent.
When Ochieng’ was born, Lwala was a small village that had no electricity, running water or roads. If anyone became ill, he or she was carted in a wheelbarrow or on the shoulders of villagers eight miles to the nearest road, where they hoped a taxi or friendly driver would stop.
During his childhood, one of Ochieng’s friends lost his mother, who had gone into labor, on that route. That experience propelled him into medicine.
Ochieng’ and his brother Fred secured scholarships to attend Dartmouth College and Vanderbilt Medical School, then returned to their homeland to build Lwala’s first medical clinic. That led to the building of Lwala Community Hospital, a visit with President Bill Clinton, news stories by ABC, CNN, NPR, a documentary titled “Sons of Lwala,” and the forming of the Lwala Community Alliance, which focuses on clinical care, public health, education and economic development.
To help his clinic, Ochieng’ joined forces with Health eVillages, the non-profit launched in 2011 by Tramuto and Kerry Kennedy through the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights. Health eVillages supplied the clinic with iPads and healthcare apps developed by Skyscape. Doctors and nurses used them to access the latest in healthcare education and treatments, and the devices were sent out into the surrounding countryside with trained community health workers to teach other villagers.
Ochieng’s efforts have earned him an international following, and Tramuto’s moniker of the MLK of Africa. They’re also indicative of Health eVillage’s projects around the globe, from Katrina-ravaged communities in Louisiana to Haiti, Uganda and South Africa.
Tramuto – a former Healthcare IT News H.I.T. Men Award recipient – said mHealth has gone well beyond the excitement of new medical devices or apps and is now about how the technology can be used to bring people and organizations together.
“We are recognizing that it’s no longer about innovation – it’s about integration,” he said, while calling for more partnerships around the globe. “Heal the villages. Collaborate in a way that really empowers these individuals.”