African health charity integrates digital tools with Cognizant

IT services supplier is working with African health charity to integrate digital tools through a five-month project

Charitable organisation Amref Health Africa is integrating various digital tools to make training and decision-making more effective as it sees major challenges on the horizon.

The 60-year-old charity, based in Kenyan capital Nairobi, has the goal of increasing sustainable healthcare in sub-Saharan Africa.

Diana Mukami, digital learning director at Amref Health Africa’s Institute of Capacity Development, tells Computer Weekly that one of the organisation’s biggest challenges is emerging as the African continent expects a huge shortfall in healthcare workers with the right skills. These include medical staff, community health workers, managers and technicians.

To address this, Amref is working with long-time partner, pharmaceuticals giant GSK, and IT services supplier Cognizant to improve how it manages its workforce. 

The organisation has two training tools, used by more than 200,000 people: Leap, which uses SMS and voice to help community workers, who typically have a mobile phone; and Jibu, which is a smart device-based tool with more interactive media.

It also uses a data collection tool, known as M-Jali, which supports the collection of data at the household level to help governments make healthcare decisions based on what is happening at the population level.

“We have had these tools for a while, but part of the challenge has been to connect training, data and household-level information,” Mukami tells Computer Weekly. “We need to understand the needs of a particular country or region and how to incorporate this into how governments plan, so being able to integrate these tools has been a priority.”

Currently, much of the information that Amref collects is paper-based, so it has had to be keyed in before it is analysed, leading to delays in taking action as well as making decisions on information that might not be up to date.

“We were very keen to look into how we can connect these different tools and data points because one of the advantages of technology is you can create a complete picture of the situation,” says Mukami.

Partnership with Cognizant

After being introduced to some of GSK’s IT partners, Amref formed a partnership with Cognizant to look at ways of improving its training through technology. 

The partnership was established after Amref was impressed by Cognizant’s approach to solving its problem and its openness to collaborating to ensure it takes advantage of Amref’s experience.

“Cognizant did not come in saying they were experts, but wanted to know what the challenge was, the context, and we could collaborate to create solutions,” says Mukami. “This was attractive to us because we have the knowledge of six decades working in Africa and want to be part of the solution.”

The project to integrate the digital tools is currently in the design phase. “They are looking at what we have in place and helping us to integrate the different tools,” she adds. “They are not saying, ‘This is what you must use’.”

So far, there have been a number of interactions with different teams, analysis of what is required has been carried out, and now the project team is working on prototypes of what the solution will look like.

There are several challenges in embarking on a project like this in Africa, and Mukami believes it would not have been possible without the partnership with Cognizant.

“IT is really growing in the region and we do have expertise, but Cognizant brings in a broadness of experience and expertise which we just do not have,” she says. “Also, I don’t think we could ever afford a company like Cognizant, but as a partner we can find things to do together.”

Benefits of integrated tools

The project is expected to be completed in October or November, but Mukami expects to reap some of the benefits of integrated tools before then. “We will see deliverables and be able to use them during that time,” she says. “The ability to have that overview, the complete story from training to service delivery, helps to show you if what you are doing is right.”

Creating efficiencies like this comes at a critical time for healthcare in Africa, which faces huge challenges. Mukami says there is an estimated six million shortfall in the number of health workers needed in Africa by 2030, while the population is growing and the challenges are increasing.

Beyond the project with Cognizant, Mukami says digital technology will play a major role in African healthcare going forward. “We recognise the opportunities offered by technology and we are happy we are in a continent that has leapfrogged other regions because of the challenges we have,” she says. “As the technology infrastructure has evolved, we as an organisation have adopted its use. Mobile technology has really supported our work, because many communities in rural areas have access to a mobile phone and some connectivity.”

Amref will look to work with others to provide the IT skills to complement its 60 years of knowledge and experience. “We are not a tech company, so we look for partnerships to make sure we can take advantage,” says Mukami.

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