Meet Africa’s Women in Digital Health – Using Data to Reshape Healthcare in Africa

Svetlana KouzminaNews

Huguette Diakabana,  Co-Founder, African Alliance of Digital Health Networks

African women are combining their contextual understanding, training, passion, and technology to address challenges in public health. These women have found an ally in technology, and are serious about incorporating it in their work. They are strategists, solutions developers, organizational leaders, and data-driven decisions advocates.  They understand the value of data; they enjoy contributing, and they are the driving forces behind key health interventions.

These are a few of their beliefs:

  1. Data inspires behavior change and leads to better health outcomesThe AdvocateIt is difficult to miss in discussions about digital health, in Rwanda.  E-Heza is a low-cost, point-of-care maternal-child digital health record, and winner of both the Johnson & Johnson GenH and MIT Solve challenges.The introduction of E-Heza has empowered caregivers to contribute to evidence-based clinical care protocols, track health trends, manage their workflow, improve data and reporting quality, and maximize quality and impact of their services.  Front line health workers are using the tool to collect nutrition assessment data for children under the age of five and to monitor the progress of pregnant women.

    Theophila Huriro Uwacu, is E-Heza’s Digital Health Record Director, and one of the driving forces behind this project. Through her work, implemented through the Ihangane Project, Theophila has been able to advocate for and utilize the power of accurate data to improve the quality of care and health outcomes.

    Theophile oversaw the development of E-Heza, the first point of care health record system in Rwanda, and its expansion to 23 health centers.  She believes that the data collected, analyzed, and shared using this system, can inspire behavior change and lead to improved health outcomes … and current outcomes proves she’s right.  In Ruli, Rwanda, nurses and mothers utilized the power of data to improve the quality of care by 118% leading to the elimination of mother-to-child HIV transmission and over 60% drop in malnutrition.

  1. Data improves understanding of country’s health systemThe Senior Programs ManagerNwanyibuife Obiako (Adaeze), is proud to be one of the passionate African Woman in management and leadership in digital health. Having grown up around the world – in Asia, Latin America, and the United States –  returning to Africa gave her the opportunity to influence changes in African healthcare she believes are possible.Nwanyibuife Obiako (Adaeze) is a Senior Programs Manager at eHealth Africa. Currently, based in Sierra Leone, Adaeze manages technology-based projects across the continent. She works with GIS teams and software engineers to design solutions that help countries better understand their public health landscape.

    She recently managed a polio surveillance effort across West and Central Africa, where community members, including women, used mobile SMS-based geospatial phone application (created by Novel-t ) to monitor acute flaccid paralysis (AFP) in children under 15 years of age (AFP is defined as a sudden onset of paralysis/weakness in any part of the body of a child less than 15 years of age).

    For inspiration, she looks to her peers and other prominent female leaders. Dr. Chi Chi Aniagolu-Okoye, Country Director for WaterAid Nigeria, has been one of her mentors and cheerleaders. Dr. Aniagulu-Okoye’s passion for effecting positive change within the African care system, and her openness to share lessons learned, serves as a powerful example of partnership and leadership. In her turn, Adaeze aims to create an atmosphere where her team feels connected  to each other, and to the community at large. As for her advice to other women in digital health, communication and collaboration are crucial.

  1. Data and mobile technologies raise awareness and save livesThe Technical AdvisorRosemary Muliokela stumbled into Digital Health, after completing her Masters in the United States, via an internship. She decided to become a  champion, as soon as she discovered the transformative nature of technology and possibilities in mHealth. She oversees the implementation of the ‘mHealth for NCD (non-communicable Disease) initiative’ in Zambia. She launched the initial phase of the NCDs initiative, which focused on using mobile technology to encourage cervical cancer screenings among women, within the screening age group. She collaborated with telecommunications companies to send one million text messages, using data she received to adjust the program’s strategies, when necessary.

    Rosemary is currently assisting the Ministry of Health with the implementation of its digital health strategy, emphasizing an evidence-based approach to decision making and resource allocation.

  1. Data leads to impactful innovations and adoption of practical new technologiesThe Trailblazer and Digital Health Innovation DirectorCaroline Mbindyo’s love story with technology began with an Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer (ENIAC), in her 8th-grade computer class. She taught herself BASIC programming language in the early 1980s and “dreamt of the day I would own my computer.”  Caroline returned to Kenya after years of living in Canada, Israel, and Australia, and over 20 other countries, and became the first female webmaster in Kenya.  She later transitioned to the health sector.Today she is a Board Member for the White Ribbon Alliance, Kenya Chapter (WRA-K); Co-Founder of a quality, local cost, a private primary school in rural Kenya; and Director of Digital Heath and Innovation with Living Goods.

    For LivingGoods, she supports the implementation of their SmartHealthTM android application. Community health worker (CHW) networks, use their application to reach more than six million people in Kenya and Uganda.

    She is also, builds, tests, and refines new technologies, such as artificial intelligence and biosensors. This aspect of the work, she believes, will allow Living Goods to continue to identify optimal solutions to national health.

    While many of the discussions about digital health in Africa encompass tools, policies, and strategies, which are inarguably essential components of a robust health system, it is equally important to leverage the contributions of the national staff who champion digital health. They not only understand the value of the data, and the digital health interventions it facilitates, they are well positions to help design effective systems that will lead to desired outcomes.

About the Author: 

Huguette Diakabana (twitter: @Huguette_D) is the Co-Founder and Deputy Director of the African Alliance of Digital Health Networks, an organization that is helping to grow a cadre of digital health leaders and entrepreneurs in Africa.  Through its leadership, fellowship, and entrepreneurship programs, the Alliance ensures that countries, as well as Africa based digital health actors, have the support and resources needed to develop strong digital health systems. To continue the discussion, please contact us at info@africanalliance.digital, or connect with us via twitter @AfricanADHN

Svetlana KouzminaMeet Africa’s Women in Digital Health – Using Data to Reshape Healthcare in Africa