Innovalab Fights Poverty
Guinea-Bissau is a country made up of 1.8 million people comprising diverse ethnic groups, different religions and languages. About half of the country’s populace lives in urban cities such as Bissau (the capital), and the other half of the population lives in rural areas and depends mostly on subsistence farming. The country, which was once a Portuguese colony, is currently one of the poorest countries in the world, struggles with a large foreign debt and has become a centerpiece for the trade of Latin American drugs. InnovaLab, a social enterprise based in Guinea-Bissau, is working to improve conditions in the country.

The Situation in Guinea-Bissau

According to an interview with a past missionary from BMS World Mission who served in Guinea (Guinea-Bissau’s neighboring country), the general West African populace faces many challenges to development. These challenges include the lack of access to sanitary water, lack of access to healthcare and the lack of social mobility. While there are some houses that had solar panels installed to conserve energy, this was not a norm. Most of the populace had to deal with power outages as and when they came.

Despite the country having an abundance of natural resources, Guinea-Bissau faces a chicken and egg problem with regard to its efforts to fight persistent poverty. The country faces constant political and economic stagnation due to the deep-rooted problems within the country. As a result, the population is largely dissatisfied. For instance, one of the recurring problems is that schools do not operate on a daily basis. Additionally, workers do not always receive their wages. Lack of access to a sustainable income and public services limits the long term growth and development of the country’s human capital. This in turn stalls solutions to these underlying problems.

Furthermore, the country heavily relies on receiving international aid due to the ongoing domestic instability. International donors do not always release the funds on time, which leads to frequent protests.

InnovaLab Fights Poverty by Promoting Entrepreneurism

InnovaLab fights poverty by setting up an entrepreneurial ecosystem amidst all the country’s uncertainties. It does this by supporting and mentoring people through online courses, boot camps and technology-driven initiatives. The founder of InnovaLab is Adulai Bary. InnovaLab was born in 2015 out of the movement of the increasing presence of startups in the markets. Bary’s idea for InnovaLab focuses on helping to generate employment, reducing incidences of crime and helping to promote small businesses.

InnovaLab fights poverty in Guinea-Bissau by playing a key role in the backbone of the country’s economy. It connects public and private sector organizations to work on innovative projects around new technologies and increased job opportunities. The organization emphasizes the importance of mentoring and incubation resources that it provides to its members. It offers personal business coaching and exclusive invitations to educational and networking events. It also provides consulting on revenue growth and sales to these budding entrepreneurs.

InnovaLab is also opening up a co-working space for people to brainstorm and collaborate in a safe environment. It hopes to attract small businesses, freelancers and startups. These organizations would benefit from 24-hour access to working facilities, free WiFi and housing for a maximum of 15 people. InnovaLab also has an acceleration and expertise center that provides professional services such as finance, legal and accounting services to entrepreneurs. InnovaLab fights poverty by providing opportunities for business owners to get a more in-depth understanding of the problems and opportunities for improvement.

Progress Thus Far

InnovaLab has succeeded in helping various local projects and online businesses come to fruition. Examples of InnovaLab’s success stories include Bandim Online (an e-commerce site for domestic products), a community ICT school, Big Technology (a service supplier company) and UBUNTU (a solar energy project). InnovaLab has a variety of other promising entrepreneurial ideas that have yet to meet the funding requirements. Notably, a total of 5,000 people benefitted from InnovaLab’s educational courses, and 20 new enterprises were incubated by InnovaLab’s efforts. More recently the organization has responded to the impact of COVID-19 on the business environment and economy of Guinea-Bissau. InnovaLab held a virtual forum on the 17th to 19th of July 2020 to initiate and spearhead the brainstorming and collective efforts of private and public sector workers in the fight towards dealing with the pandemic.

In the midst of domestic challenges and uncertainties, InnovaLab is a breakthrough in the entrepreneurial space of Guinea-Bissau. It provides sustainability for small businesses to flourish with the right mentoring and resources. InnovaLab fights poverty by creating a counter-culture to poverty in periods of instability by supporting the growth and cultivation of businesses and startups.

Mariyah Lia
Photo: Flickr


Rice is one of the world’s most popular foods. It is a culturally significant staple in cuisines across the world, from Asia to Africa to the Americas. In fact, rice comprises at least 20% of daily calorie intake for more than 3.5 billion people. Rice is also enticing, especially for the impoverished, for its versatility, nutritional value and affordability to produce and buy. To continue supplying this necessary meal staple for millions of people worldwide, it is imperative that rice farming is efficient and high-yielding. Here are several efforts demonstrating how technology improves rice production.

Crop Manager

The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) is a global research organization that discovers and implements solutions for rice farming and production to help end world hunger. One such initiative is the development of a useful rice production product called Crop Manager. Crop Manager is a computer program designed to assist rice farmers in tasks like nutrient management and fertilizer selection.

Crop Manager is especially useful for impoverished farmers due to its simple information delivery method. The program conveys information to farmers quickly and concisely via computer printouts and SMS text messages. Thus, even farmers with only basic technologies like cell phones or computers can access this advanced data and improve their crop yields. Crop Manager is currently active in Bangladesh, India, Indonesia and the Philippines.

Biofortification

The IRRI has also committed to improving rice itself. To do this, the organization has begun researching and implementing biofortification: genetic modification of a crop to improve its nutritional value. With this method, grains have been genetically modified to provide greater amounts of nutrients like zinc and iron. This innovation is incredibly helpful for those consuming rice as a major component of their diet. More nutrient-dense rice can help poor families prevent diet-induced diseases like iron deficiency anemia, an illness that causing extreme weakness due to low red blood cell counts.

Hybrid Gains

Another organization demonstrating how technology improves rice production is RiceTec. RiceTec is an American company committed to modernizing rice production worldwide. One specific effort RiceTec has organized is modified disease-resistant rice grains. These hybrid grains are more formidable against diseases that typically kill rice crops, ensuring crop yields remain high.

Other hybrid grains developed by RiceTec allow farmers to increase the quantity of rice in their fields, as well as provide grains with stronger straws and improved grain retention. The implications of these innovations are massive; by introducing these hybrid grains into rice fields worldwide, people relying on rice as a primary component of their diets will become more able to feed themselves and their families. For farmers, selling more of the crop will provide greater income and improve their quality of life.

Furthermore, some hybrid rice grains have the added benefit of using less arable land to provide comparableif not morecrop yield. In 2009, for example, China reduced its rice-growing land use by 14% while increasing production by 44.1%. With the increased use of hybrid grains worldwide, the sustainability of rice production will continue to improve. Additionally, reducing arable land use will feed more with minimal strain on the environment.

Moving Forward

Modern farming and wealthy countries have long used technology to improve their crops. Developments ranging from crop management software to higher nutrition in crops themselves to hybrid grains have forever changed the practice of farming. By delivering this technology to the world’s poor, people relying on rice as a staple will have the opportunity to succeed both in terms of crop viability and overall quality of life. As technology continues improving rice production, the world comes one step closer to eradicating food insecurity.

– Domenic Scalora
Photo: Flickr

Limited access to healthcare is a challenge that millions of people face globally. According to data collected by the World Bank and W.H.O., roughly half of the global population had no way to access necessary health services in December 2017. The high costs of getting healthcare forced nearly 100 million people into poverty that year. For hundreds of millions of people across the world, even basic healthcare is economically out of reach. Unfortunately, COVID-19 has put additional strain on healthcare systems around the globe. The pandemic has disrupted medicine supply chains in many parts of the world, preventing vital medical supplies from reaching hospitals in a timely manner. This is particularly dangerous for developing countries with healthcare systems that were already struggling to meet their countries’ needs. However, recent technological innovations like BraineHealth are seeking to revolutionize healthcare to overcome these issues.

How BraineHealth Can Help

This problem may seem insurmountable, but not to BraineHealth. The Swedish company is hoping to use artificial intelligence and robotics to make healthcare more accessible for people throughout the world. BraineHealth’s healthcare innovations can apply many areas of healthcare, such as primary healthcare, senior healthcare and mental health services. In all these areas, BraineHealth hopes to connect doctors and other medical professionals with their patients in a way that is easy, affordable and safe.

With BraineHealth’s system, patients could potentially receive diagnoses and expert medical consultations without having to leave their homes. This would reduce medical costs and travel expenses for patients, and it would provide a safer alternative to in-person appointments. Here are four BraineHealth programs that seek to revolutionize healthcare.

4 BraineHealth Programs Revolutionizing Healthcare

  1. Artificial Intelligence: BraineHealth is developing an AI program that will allow for quicker and more efficient remote diagnoses. This program receives information about a patient’s symptoms provided by the patient and analyzes this report. By examining it against a database of thousands of documented diagnoses, the algorithm can provide as accurate a diagnosis as possible.
  2. Diabetio: This program combines social robotics and artificial intelligence to assist diabetic patients with managing their diabetes. The Diabetio robot will help manage the patient’s carbohydrate intake, and it will keep the patient informed about whether they are at risk of developing diabetes. To help the patient most efficiently, this program will retain and process information about the patient’s daily activities.
  3. Medipacker: BraineHealth is also looking to revolutionize healthcare by expanding access to medical information and education through its Medipacker education program. This program aims to give backpackers the opportunity to become qualified first-aid providers at little to no cost. By removing economic barriers to first-aid education, BraineHealth hopes to encourage more people around the world to learn about emergency medicine.
  4. InEmpathy: Recently, BraineHealth has partnered with the charity InEmpathy. InEmpathy’s work focuses on building better systems of healthcare in developing countries. Crucially, this organization is now helping to bring BraineHealth’s technological innovations to communities in need. BraineHealth will therefore be able to adapt its technologies to best fit the needs of their destination countries.

Looking to the Future

Millions worldwide lack adequate access to healthcare. Even in areas that have hospitals, the costs of health services are often too high for poor communities. Using technological innovation, BraineHealth is working to revolutionize healthcare so that the people in these communities can have access to healthcare that would otherwise be out of reach.

Marshall Kirk
Photo: Flickr

Innovation in Poverty Eradication in Costa RicaCosta Rica, a country in Central America known for its beautiful Caribbean beaches and biodiversity, has the lowest rate of poverty in Central America. However, rural areas still struggle somewhat with poverty. About 20% of Costa Ricans are currently living under the poverty line, making less than $155 a month. Thankfully, there are many innovations in poverty eradication in Costa Rica helping those most affected. New technologies, for example, are helping with education both remotely and in school. Here are a few innovations in poverty eradication in Costa Rica.

Education in Costa Rica

Academically, Latin America falls behind in mathematics. Children at a young age need to learn math to get a good start in school. But without resources, children in Costa Rica struggle to get a quality education. This not only affects their test scores but also their mindsets.

High-level education is also a problem in Costa Rica. As a small country, Costa Rica lacks the required resources to provide high-quality education for all of its students. About 4% of the country’s population 15 or older currently doesn’t know how to read and write. Poor early education often leads to illiteracy in teenagers. With preschool starting at the age of four, it is important that kids get a good start right away. Thankfully, there are innovations in poverty eradication in Costa Rica working to improve education in Costa Rica.

Tech Innovation in Costa Rica

To solve this issue, researchers and the country’s education ministry have implemented a pilot program focused on math and programming skills for preschool students. The Pensalo program offers a highly intelligent robot named “Albert” to assist students. This robot scans a series of flashcards, helps with sharpening memory and shows instructions that use mathematical and numerical concepts. This innovation in poverty eradication in Costa Rica has impacted 392 schools in four different provinces. So far, this robot has given children a great start to education.

Albert’s Impact

SK Telecom designed Albert after an agreement with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) to figure out a solution so that kids can have more opportunities to grow and learn in Costa Rica. With IDB being a good source of development in financing for Latin America, it was able to provide 1,500 robots for schools. Not only does this help education in Costa Rica, but it can also set a good influence in different countries. Albert shows that Costa Rica is able to create a sustainable level of quality education.

This is one of many innovations in poverty eradication in Costa Rica that have helped provide a good education to young students. Thanks to the Albert robot, children can now get a strong start to their education. This will have a ripple effect in the future, as education is a significant obstacle for children to overcome to escape poverty.

Rachel Hernandez
Photo: Pixabay

healthcare apps
In September 2000, the United Nations released a list of eight Millennium Development Goals that aimed to enhance gender equality, literacy, education and health in developing nations. Goals four through six specifically target the need to improve child mortality rates, maternal health and disease prevention in underdeveloped regions. Achieving these goals requires information distribution among populations, thus equipping individuals with the resources necessary to practice safe self-care. Two healthcare apps called MedAfrica and the Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action (MAMA) are providing these resources to the most remote parts of Africa. The apps give life-saving health advice via voice calls, SMS and the web, and are working to eradicate healthcare inadequacies in Africa.

Poverty and Health Linked

The experiences of many developing countries showcase correlations between low poverty rates and the success of healthcare systems. Low-income regions face high child mortality, low economic and educational development and increased disease transmission. Overcrowded living conditions common in low-income areas aid in the rapid spread of disease. In many African nations, the lack of available medical practitioners increases infection rates, places a financial strain on families and reduces the availability of educational health resources. Kenya, for example, has more than 40 million residents but only 7,000 medical professionals, which presents a clear disparity in access to care compared to higher-income countries.

Pregnant mothers often suffer the most from poverty. In low-income countries, more than 500,000 women die every year either during or after pregnancy. According to Dr. Charles P. Larson, improper prenatal care not only affects mothers, but it also threatens children’s growth and overall health. Children may face impaired cognition, causing intense behavioral problems and hindering school performance. The primary reason for these problems is a severe lack of access to healthcare information, which highlights a dire need to deliver accessible healthcare to underserved populations. Healthcare apps are helping many regions of Africa do just that.

MedAfrica

Shimba Technology launched MedAfrica in 2011 with the hope of providing health information and connectivity resources to people in Kenya and Uganda. The company’s primary goal was to increase interaction between practitioners and their patients through different communication systems available on the app. However, like other healthcare apps, MedAfrica does far more than create conversation. While in-person consultations often monopolize a doctor’s time, MedAfrica relieves pressure on overworked practitioners. The app’s audio calls, SMS and online instructions give individuals the tools they need to deal with general problems while allowing immediate medical issues to have a doctor’s time and attention.

MedAfrica users simply input their symptoms to receive diagnoses, basic information about medicine and a suggested treatment routine. If a patient needs to visit a doctor, the app provides a detailed registry, so the patient can choose who will monitor their care. The registry also defends against fraudulent providers, as every physician listed must undergo vetting and receive approval.

The app stands out from other healthcare apps for its success. MedAfrica won €15,000 in the 2012 Ericsson Application Awards, an annual competition that recognizes international app excellence. The app was also named one of the Top 10 Favorite Startups at Silicon Valley’s DEMO Conference due to its “hit factor” and “Technology for Good” assessment. In the future, Shimba Technology plans to expand MedAfrica’s reach in Africa before venturing into Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia.

MAMA

Limited access to medical counsel is particularly alarming for impoverished pregnant women who are at a greater risk for preterm birth, restricted intrauterine growth and maternal death. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton launched the Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action (MAMA) in 2011 to address this issue. MAMA now provides innovative solutions for health information deprivation in Bangladesh, India, Nigeria and South Africa. Since its inception, the app has collected $4.5 million in public and private investments.

Because communication channels differ in each country, MAMA alters its program based on phone and internet access, literacy rates and channel cost. For example, when literacy is low, MAMA uses audio messages instead of SMS. If internet access is widely available, the app relies on web connection. Local dialects in the app also help customize user experiences and increase usage rates. In these ways and more, MAMA is constantly changing to accommodate its users’ locations and situations.

Additional functions of the app include peer support, knowledge sharing, and the option to turn on notifications. Some of the most significant MAMA app features are birth plan distributions, childcare and breastfeeding tips and the option for mothers to record their due dates in order to learn more about their pregnancy stages.

In just eight years, MAMA has gained almost 3.5 million subscribers in four countries alone, making it a success among a plethora of healthcare apps. MAMA recently invested $10 million into building its programs in Bangladesh, India and South Africa, three countries where the app has been largely successful.

One Step Closer

As MedAfrica and MAMA continue their work, the countries in which they operate will become one step closer to achieving at least three of the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals. Increased access to proper healthcare and self-care information reduces poverty by increasing self-sufficiency and allowing families to focus on education, entrepreneurship and other means of national development. Healthcare apps are one proven way to accomplish this goal.

– Natalie Clark
Photo: Flickr

Poverty and Technology
Stanford University launched its Poverty and Technology Lab in 2016, promoting the collaboration of students and Silicon Valley experts to use their knowledge of the technology world in order to provide practical solutions to poverty.

Reversing the Roles of Technology

Stanford initiated its Poverty and Technology Lab as a project within the university’s Center for Technology and Inequality (CPI). Its goal with this initiative is to redefine the various uses of technology. Experts and students at the university recognize the possible dangers of technology, as it has the potential to decrease employment opportunities and perpetuate global inequalities. This Lab aims to switch this role by applying technology to benefit low-income people, rather than prioritizing the improvement of middle-class lives.

The Technology and Poverty Lab fostered collaboration among students, professors and Silicon Valley technology experts. In addition, the Lab incorporates the voices and opinions of people living in low-income communities into these conversations. This inclusion ensures that the tools being innovated are truly geared toward issues that the impoverished are enduring.

A Unique Approach in the Classroom

Stanford also launched a course series that parallels the goals of this lab. Professor David Grusky, Director of Stanford’s Center on Poverty and Inequality, teaches the first courseEnding Poverty with Technologyas well as the remaining courses.

Grusky explained the unique approach of both his classes and the lab in an interview, stating that “[Stanford’s Poverty and Technology Lab] is an opportunity to not take on problems at their root sources, which is our instinct. …  Sometimes the best way forward is to not take on problems at their causes, at their sources, but rather to approach them less directly and instead opt for approaches that proceed in a different way. It’s kind of a more pragmatic approach.”

Grusky said his classes are largely geared toward teaching students to think in a manner that enables them to create solutions using this unique method: “One of the outputs [of my class] is just training students in how you would think through problems in this way. So it’s not that they actually make headway on the problems themselves, but they learned how to approach problems of this type, and hopefully, in the future, we’ll make headway.”

Forming Projects

Many of the projects that have formed through Stanford’s Poverty and Technology Lab are information-oriented. Examples include services that aid employment, boost access to educational opportunities and enable low-income communities to rate preexisting assistance programs. These projects primarily focus on the process of linking data to evaluate current programs related to these processes.

“We have a lot of work underway in which we negotiate data-sharing agreements and use them to put together linked administrative data sets that then allow us to carry out evaluations,” Grusky reported.

From the United States to Abroad

Stanford created the Poverty and Technology Lab to find poverty solutions in the Bay Area and the United States. However, much of the work by this lab is applicable to impoverished communities across the globe. Acknowledging this global relevance, some students have even begun the process of testing their innovations abroad.

“Although we used the U.S. as a kind of a testbed in trying to understand the problems, some of [the students] actually went on and worked on their projects in other areas,” Grusky revealed.

Experimentation with one such project occurred in Peru, where a female student devised an entrepreneurship app. She proposed this application to include a convenient toolkit for those struggling to secure employment opportunities. This app would help these impoverished individuals to avoid this challenge by learning to start their own business.

At the surface, this project engages students at Stanford University. But it also urges technology experts across the country to examine the impact of their products more broadly. Students and scholars nationwide are collaborating with community members to find practical technological solutions to poverty.

– Hannah Carroll
Photo: Flickr

world hunger aid app
Chronic hunger is still an issue that plagues many countries and communities around the world. Many solutions proposed to solve world hunger have been ongoing for decades, yet the problem persists. In the technology-focused 21st century, these attempts at solutions have become increasingly digital. One such digital solution is a world hunger aid application from the United Nations’ World Food Programme.

The World Food Programme

The World Food Programme is the U.N.’s top organization in charge of managing and solving world hunger crises. It is focused on emergency food aid as well as helping communities maintain high nutrition standards. The WFP’s efforts are responsible for the allocation and distribution of billions of rations, worldwide to food-insecure communities each year.

Most of these food aid efforts happen on the ground, in the affected areas. However, a new initiative from the WFP can involve far more people in the crusade against world hunger. The solution is the world hunger aid application, “ShareTheMeal.”

ShareTheMeal: How Does it Work?

Launched in 2015, ShareTheMeal is a one-of-a-kind world hunger aid application. Its sole purpose is to allow users worldwide, to donate meals to adults and children around the world via their smartphones or tablets. To participate, users simply tap a button to send an $0.80 donation to the WFP, which covers the cost of one meal.

ShareTheMeal also allows users to assist with its mission in several other ways. Within the user interface, the hunger aid application splits donation tiers into higher amounts, such as “Feed a Child for a Week” or “Feed a Child for a Year,” which correspond to a donation value, to fund that goal. The application also has a feature called “The Table,” where a monthly donation matches the user with the family they are supporting. This allows users to receive updates on how their donations helped a specific family.

In addition to its general donation tiers, ShareTheMeal has real-time, cause-specific donation sections. These include assisting with the famine crisis in Yemen and supporting Syrian refugees in Iraq. The application’s “Teams” option also allows users to form teams with friends, coworkers or family members to meet a donation goal.

ShareTheMeal’s Impact

To date, ShareTheMeal has donated more than 78 million meals to people in need via its 2+ million users on iOS alone. It has received thousands of five-star reviews for its efforts and was named the Google Play Store’s Best Social Impact app. ShareTheMeal has also been featured by several major global news outlets, from CNN, Forbes and Al Jazeera to Spiegel Online.

The application has directly contributed to the WFP’s efforts to continue providing aid to communities affected by global hunger. ShareTheMeal combines peoples’ desire to support a cause with the technology that permeates their everyday lives — in a masterfully simple idea that offers tangible results. In doing so, the application brings the world of charity to a new generation of contributors via its smartphone presence.

Outlook — Positive

As hunger persists around the globe, ShareTheMeal continues to grow and evolve today. The world hunger aid application announced that during the next five years, it aims to donate 800 million meals to the world’s poor. ShareTheMeal’s goal is massive, but with its millions of users, exceptional usability and the emotional connections it creates between users and those they assist (with their donations) — this clever piece of technology seems to be on track to succeed in its quest to end global starvation.

– Domenic Scalora
Photo: Flickr

m-Health in developing countriesMobile healthcare, known colloquially as “m-Health,” just may be the key to revolutionizing healthcare and access to medicine in developing countries. m-Health allows anyone with a mobile device to access various facets of healthcare such as educational resources, notifications about nearby testing and vaccination diagnosis and symptom help and telehealth appointments.

Lacking access to healthcare is one of the major drivers of poverty across the world. The World Bank and the World Health Organization (WHO) state that “at least half of the world’s population cannot obtain essential health services.” This inaccessibility perpetuates the existence of infectious diseases specific to developing countries. Similarly, poverty itself is a public health crisis. As indicated by the WHO, poverty directly causes sickness “because it forces people to live in environments that make them sick, without decent shelter, clean water or adequate sanitation.”

In addition, healthcare expenses cause 100 million people to fall into “extreme poverty.” Extreme poverty is defined as less than two dollars a day each year. Thus, even if people in developing countries can access to medical care, the expenses often put them into another devastating health situation.

However, m-Health may decrease these numbers. Read below for some key benefits of m-Health in developing countries.

m-Health is Adaptable and Available

m-Health is becoming more and more accessible to developing countries due to widespread mobile phone use around the world. A study from the PEW research center on global mobile phone ownership revealed that mobile phone ownership is growing in countries with developing economies. Around 83% of citizens in emerging economies (South Africa, Brazil, Philippines, Mexico, Tunisia, Indonesia, Kenya, Nigeria and India) own a mobile phone. Another PEW study found a majority of adults own their own mobile phones in a separate group of 11 developing countries.

67 countries in the world have less than two hospital beds per 1,000 people. However, many of those countries (including countries from the PEW research studies) have high rates of mobile phone ownership. Therefore, some developing countries would have better access to telehealth than in-person health.

In addition, m-Health is adaptable. WHO reported that the most widely-used m-Health initiatives around the world are “health call centers/ health care telephone helplines (59%), emergency toll-free telephone services (55%), emergencies (54%) and mobile telemedicine (49%).” This shows that different regions can implement different programs depending on the need.

m-Health Can Track Disease Outbreaks, Epidemics and Natural Disasters

Tracking disease outbreaks and natural disasters is a huge advantage of m-Health. WHO reported high implementation rates of this m-Health initiative in South East Asia and the Americas. Africa uses this feature of m-Health the most for public warning systems.

m-Health Avoids Poorly Maintained Health Clinics

In an article by the World Economic Forum, the author described how many health clinics in developing countries, particularly in Africa and Indonesia, may be doing more harm than good. If low-income countries rush to build multiple health facilities, the quality of these pop-up clinics is often low. They tend to be “lacking in the equipment, supplies and staff needed to deliver vital health services effectively.” In addition, the sheer volume of poorly-constructed clinics often competes for resources. Medical equipment is often left unsanitized, therefore becoming dangerous. This contributed to Ebola killing more people in health facilities than outside areas during the West African epidemic in 2014-2016.

However, m-Health reduces the need for going to an in-person clinic. In this model, concerned individuals can schedule a “virtual first” consultation and then attend an in-person appointment only if needed.

m-Health Raises Awareness and Mobilizes Communities to Receive Vaccines and Testing

Many countries have also implemented mass SMS alerts to alert their citizens of nearby testing sites for HIV. These alerts educate recipients on health concerns related to HIV and other infectious diseases. They also outline why it is necessary to receive testing and treatment. Similar alerts exist for vaccine knowledge and care.

As m-Health is a new and continuously developing idea, there are still problems with its potential to provide widespread care. For example, even though virtual appointments and care are possible through m-Health, many developing countries lack a sufficient number of health workers to keep up with m-Health services. One study affirms this, stating, “There are 57 countries with a critical shortage of healthcare workers, [creating] a deficit of 2.4 million doctors and nurses.”

In addition, different health conditions may receive disproportionate care through m-Health. For example, women’s and reproductive health is at a large deficit in the developing world and globally. One study revealed that “women are 21% less likely to own a mobile phone than men, and this difference is higher in South East Asia.” Another study in Kenya also reported that “ownership of mobile phones was 1.7 times and SMS-use was 1.6 times higher among males than among females.” This ownership deficit, coupled with the fact that women are more likely to be in poverty than men due to gender inequality, makes m-Health more accessible to men’s health or less gendered health issues.

Still, m-Health in developing countries is an extremely promising enterprise to relieve the developing world of its widespread healthcare deficits. As this study concludes “m-Health has shown incredible potential to improve health outcomes” – and it can only continue to progress from here.

– Grace Ganz
Photo: PXFuel

health sector communication
Communication is key when it comes to developing a well-performing healthcare system. Ineffective communication within healthcare systems “increases the likelihood of negative patient outcomes,” overall costs for healthcare systems, and “patient utilization of inpatient and emergency care.” Meanwhile, sound health sector communication ensures the maintenance of overall health and helps prevent diseases and premature death. Thus, it is important to ensure that healthcare systems across the globe are well equipped and supported. Recent developments in mobile technologies have made it easier to do so and transformed health-sector communication in several countries.

mHERO

A recently developed mobile application, called mHERO, has become one of the latest mobile applications to demonstrate the powerful and wide-reaching role that technology plays in health-sector communication. Created in 2014 by IntraHelath International and UNICEF, mHERO is a mobile-based application used by healthcare workers and ministries of health in order to communicate and coordinate effectively and efficiently. The application was developed during the 2014 Liberian Ebola outbreak after recognizing the need for a way to communicate urgent messages to frontline healthcare workers, to collect data concerning outbreaks development, and to provide support and training.

Messages sent through the application are transmitted through basic text or SMS. The app is compatible with most cellular devices. By merging existing health information systems, such as Integrated Human Resources Information System (iHRIS) and Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR), with popular communication platforms, such as RapidPro, Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, mHERO acts as a cost-efficient, accessible and sustainable resource for many healthcare systems.

Implementation in Liberia 2014

The 2014 West African Ebola outbreak overwhelmed the Liberian healthcare sector. The absence of effective communication channels blocked the supply of vital information from health officials to health workers. UNICEF and IntraHealth International created mHERO to address the communication challenge. The application was initially designed to suit the needs of the Liberian healthcare system, utilizing the technology that was already available in the country. It then became the responsibility of the ministry of health to effectively manage and maintain the application’s implementation and its continued use.

Liberia utilized mHERO to validate healthcare facility data, to update health workers and to track which facilities need additional resources. Today, health officials use mHero to coordinate the country’s response to COVID-19. mHERO has become an integral part of the Liberian healthcare system, maintaining a vital role in health-sector communication.

Development and Reach

Guinea, Mali and Sierra Leone followed Liberia’s lead with the mHero integration process. The implementation guidelines and intent of use in these countries have generally remained the same as Liberia’s. Mali, however, has implemented the application with a need to train and develop the skills of healthcare workers.

Uganda, as of 2020, has also incorporated mHERO into its healthcare system with the intent of reducing the spread of COVID-19. The application has allowed for easier COVID-19-related communication between ministries of health, health officials and healthcare workers.

Uganda employes a developed form of the application with an extension called FamilyConnect. The extension sends “targeted lifecycle messages via SMS to pregnant mothers, new mothers, heads of household and caregivers about what they need to do to keep babies and mothers safe in the critical first 1,000 days of life” as long as they have been registered with the Ministry of Health’s Reproductive, Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health (RMNCAH). Mothers can register themselves or can choose to have registration done by a community health worker.

Future Plans

UNICEF and IntraHealth International want to expand access to mHERO. Counties in East and West Africa have indicated an interest in implementing the application. UNICEF and IntraHealth International intend to continue to support the ministries of health and healthcare systems in which mHERO has already been implemented. They also hope to find new ways to encourage ministries of health “to understand the interoperability of the technology, the processes for implementation and best practices to using mHero data.”

Overall, mHERO has substantially improved health-sector communication within several countries, proving the application’s potential for revolutionizing health-sector communication throughout the world. Developments can be made to expand the application’s capabilities and reach, as proven in Uganda. The application is a sustainable and cost-efficient resource for healthcare systems and helps reduce the chances of premature death along with the spread of diseases and misinformation. It provides crucial support to healthcare workers, especially during times of epidemics, increasing the overall quality of healthcare and life.

Stacy Moses
Photo: Flickr

Innovating Global Healthcare
Access to adequate healthcare remains a challenge for people around the globe living in poverty. Continuously increasing healthcare costs exacerbate this issue and the final result is that more people in need are suffering as a consequence. The term “catastrophic health spending” refers to a person who spends more than 10% of their income on “out-of-pocket,” healthcare expenses. According to a report from the World Health Organization, 926.6 million people dealt with catastrophic health spending of at least 10% of their income in 2015. Furthermore, 208.7 million people endured health costs that were more than 25% of their income. These figures may indicate a need for innovating global healthcare, going forward.

Medtronic Improving Global Health Conditions

As part of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, the third goal focuses on improving health conditions. Specifically, section 3.8 aims to reduce cost barriers to life-saving treatments and medicine. Medtronic understands the value of this mission and is one company leading the way for innovations in global healthcare. As part of the company’s commitment to “alleviate pain, restore health, and extend life,” Medtronic continues to combine technology and patient-centered care to improve access to health services and resources for vulnerable populations, worldwide.

Medtronic invests heavily in finding solutions for noncommunicable diseases (NCD), i.e. diseases that cannot spread from one individual to another. Often these are chronic conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and even hearing loss. In 2012, 68% of global deaths were caused by an NCD and while organizations are fighting to lower that number — approximately half of the global population are unable to access critical care.

3 Ways to Combat NCDs

An important part of Medtronic’s innovations in global healthcare stems from the idea of evolving medical practices. In the company’s efforts to combat NCDs, it concentrates on three areas: (1) capacity building, (2) community engagement and (3) sustaining programs. The capacity building portion of Medtronic’s commitment ensures that healthcare workers are well-equipped to understand their roles and responsibilities in the healthcare system. Moreover, it advocates for up-to-date training and professional feedback for workers. Medtronic’s community engagement aspect connects various organizations to broaden resources for populations in need of services. In this way, Medtronic scales back some of the barriers to care that many people face. Lastly, by gearing toward sustainable programming, Medtronic dedicates time to working with governments and policymakers to cultivate lasting change within the healthcare system itself.

Breaking Down Barriers with Programs & Patents

Medtronic has served more than 75 million people in more than 150 countries, since its start. It also has licenses to 47,800 patents — embracing the potential of new technologies to break down certain barriers. Patents for Humanity is a program of the United States Patent and Trademark Office and celebrates companies that use inventions to address humanitarian issues. In 2018, the program recognized Medtronic for its progress in innovating global healthcare. The patent in question was for a “portable, low-water kidney dialysis machine” that can be used for those who normally would not have access to traditional dialysis treatments.

Medtronic has also launched programs that integrate its technologies, combined with compassionate business models. Empower Health is one such program — utilizing a mobile tablet, an automated blood pressure machine, a glucometer and a new software application. The program allows healthcare workers to remotely monitor diabetic patients located in Ghana and Kenya. Through the software, clinicians can keep current on their patients’ status and can even send messages and write prescriptions.

While many challenges still face vulnerable populations all over the world, Medtronic is fostering new and exciting developments in the realm of global health.

– Melanie McCrackin
Photo: Flickr