Using technology to save lives at community level in Kenya

Nairobi, 24th April 2013: The extraordinarily rapid spread of first-generation mobile telephony in Africa is nothing but remarkable. It was in Africa in 2001 that mobile phones first outnumbered fixed lines. By the end of 2012, about 70% of Africa’s total population was expected to have a mobile phone. Communication has never been so easy and it has opened new opportunities across the globe.

However, when it came to utilizing technologies to collect data to strengthen the health information system to understand disease trends, organizations did not keep pace. Regular, timely data is not consistently available to allow health practitioners to make decisions and better target health interventions.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), in collaboration with partners, has developed on a low cost easy-to-use method using technologies generally available to all, to improve data collection and analysis in order to save lives at the community level.

The solution developed is called the Rapid Mobile Phone-based survey (RAMP) and is sufficiently flexible to be used for a range of tasks in many fields. ‘We are producing preliminary results within 24 hours and a full draft report within three days, as opposed to three months with pencils and clipboards’, says Mac Otten, RAMP developer for the IFRC.

In Kenya, the Kenya Red Cross used the RAMP methodology to implement a survey to better understand the maternal and child health situation in Malindi and Lamu districts on the Coastal province. The survey provided a health overview including antenatal and newborn care, immunization, nutrition, malaria, pneumonia and diarrhoea, to guide the activities implemented by community-based volunteers.

In a country where 35 per cent of children under five years are stunted, 16 per cent are underweight and with a Kenyan woman facing a 1 in 35 lifetime risk of maternal death [1], having the right information as soon as possible is vital to saving the lives of both mothers and their children.

Africa suffers the highest burden of child deaths at 46%, mainly due to diarrhoea and malaria. Nutritional status is also a critical aspect of child health, with undernourished children suffering a higher risk of mortality due to preventable diseases.

‘There hasn’t been a nutrition survey in our project area for a long time’, says Mwanaisha Marusa Hamisi, assistant Secretary General for Coastal Province, Kenya Red Cross. ‘The information collected through RAMP allows us to target volunteer actions for focused behavioral change communication. For instance, although we expected nutrition to be a real issue in our area, we didn’t know how much the population was affected. Based on the survey results, there will be a strong focus on nutrition as part of our maternal and child health community based program’.

A short training period is sufficient for RC volunteers to feel confident about undertaking surveys, capturing data on their mobile phones and a scientifically valid way of selecting households to interview. Thereafter, they can be deployed to villages to collect data and upload it to the internet, where managers can access and analyze it. No more having to wait weeks or months for survey results and the data is immediately available for use in decision making.

The Red Cross Red Crescent has been at the forefront of the innovative use of technology for data collection. The RAMP pilots projects carried out in 2011 and 2012 are the culmination of years of work in this area. ‘RAMP is an initiative based on partnership’, says Jason Peat, senior health officer at the IFRC. ‘WHO and the IFRC with the support of eminent epidemiologists spent several years developing the concept together’.

The speed, combined with the simple methodology and flexibility in terms of the survey content, are of enormous benefit to health managers and decision-makers. The use and adapation of existing technology to improve data collection and analysis provides a clear way to enhance program service delivery to save lives at community level.

With less than three years before the MDG summit in 2015 to assess progress towards the set targets, much remains to be done to ensure that integrated health services are provided in an equitable manner and that populations in hard-to-reach areas have access to health services to improve maternal and child survival.

Governments, donors and aid agencies must work hand-in-hand to focus efforts on high impact, evidence-based interventions in order to more quickly reduce maternal and child mortality and ensure healthy families, communities and countries.

Having timely data to drive decision-making and reduce preventable maternal and child deaths to zero will enhance the global effort to reach the MDG targets.

For further information and to set up interviews contact:

In Nairobi: - Aude Galli, advocacy advisor, IFRC East Africa Mobile: +254 731 984 105 – E-mail : aude.galli@ifrc.org

In Geneva: