Harnessing the Power of Technology for Health Solutions During COVID-19 and Beyond

Ian MatthewsNews

By Olive Mumba, Executive Director, Eastern Africa National Networks of AIDS and Health Service Organizations (EANNASO)

Diseases know no borders, and pandemics have spread much faster than man could have imagined, across populations around the world. The COVID-19 pandemic is but the most recent to spread so fast that man has been unable to stop it. Men and women, the young and the elderly, the rich and the poor – all are at risk of being infected. How did the world sit back and watch this happen? Part of the answer is that we did not fully harness the power of digital health technology.

EANNASO (The Eastern Africa National Networks of AIDS and Health Service Organizations) has been pioneering digital solutions for health since 2002. For example, in partnership with ZoolohjInternational and Dure Technologies, we pioneered a digital initiative known as C-Tracker to enable better tracking of COVID-19 cases to inform prompt action. With many countries now having experienced the first wave of COVID-19, it is imperative that countries be vigilant to avoid a second wave of infections. Given that a second wave is likely to come from local sources rather than imported, efforts to quickly identify and track cases is essential to contain potential outbreaks. C-tracker is a mobile-based app that enables communities to update information on potential cases of COVID-19, and people who have been in contact with COVID-19 patients. This will help to fast-track testing and management of COVID-19 to prevent further spread. C-tracker gives people and communities the power to spearhead the COVID-19 response. Currently, the South African AIDS Council Civil Society Forum (SANAC CSF) secured funding to pilot C-tracker as part of the Global Fund COVID-19 Response Mechanism. Lessons from the pilot in South Africa will help to facilitate scale-up in the region, and we are seeking partners to support scale up this initiative.

This innovation builds on our previous work, including afyadigital.health, a digital platform developed by EANNASO with financial support from The Incubator for Integration and Development in East Africa (IIDEA) a GIZ-East African Community Cooperation project. It provides access to local digital health options by mapping health service provision points in East Africa, along with up-to-date health alerts for travelers which summarizes the health situation in the country they are visiting and any requirements they need to know. Through this platform one is able to access relevant information on existing health facilities, including where they are located and the type of services they provide, as well as contact information should one need to schedule an appointment. It helps to save time by informing the user on the health facility which is the closest, and which provides the specialized services that are needed. So, one is better able to plan travel with the peace of mind of knowing where to access essential health services if needed.

The afyadigital.health platform also provides users with the latest travel requirements and information about the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. With countries opening their borders for international travelers, people will need to know what COVID-19 regulations or travel restrictions are enforced in the countries they are travelling to prior to their departure, so they can avoid financial penalties that could have easily been avoided. Within the comfort of home or on the go, one can geo-locate the nearest health facility, make an appointment and/or get answers to frequently asked questions on health issues. The afyadigital.health platform currently covers Kenya and Tanzania. More than 4,000 people across the world have used the platform since its launch this past June 2020. With time and availability of resources, the platform will be scaled up across the African continent. Afyadigital is now being developed into a native mobile application using the Android operating system to ensure wide coverage with support from Center of Excellence in information and Communication Technology in East Africa (CENIT@EA)

Digital health tools such as these are vital to fight COVID-19 and other diseases in East Africa and around the world. For more information on our work and these initiatives, contact us at eannaso@eannaso.org.


About the author:

The Eastern Africa National Networks of AIDS and Health Service Organizations (EANNASO) is a regional umbrella body bringing together civil society and community group voices to inform policies and improve the programming of HIV, TB, malaria and other health issues present in the communities. Found in 2002, EANNASO is made up of seven national networks of AIDS and Health Promotion Service Organizations in Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania [Mainland and Zanzibar] and Uganda.

Though EANNASO is an east Africa membership organization, the organization works with civil society and communities in the broader Anglophone Africa and remains the only surviving sub-regional HIV, TB and health network. EANNASO is known for coordinating civil society and community expertise as its strongest niche and building on existing capacities to strengthen the voice of civil society and community groups.

Olive Mumba is the Executive Director of EANNASO. She has 19 years of experience working directly with civil society and community groups in the areas of HIV, TB and malaria in East Africa and Anglophone Africa. She believes ending the three epidemics is only possible with meaningful engagement of communities and leaving no one behind. As a regional and global health activist, most of her work has spanned around influencing health policies, legislation and programing, health financing, promoting community systems, human rights and gender equality and strengthening engagement of civil society and communities to effectively engage in national decision-making platforms related to health. She sits on several boards, coalitions and advisory groups representing civil society aiming at influencing policies and decisions, including the: Developing Country NGO Delegation to The Stop TB Partnership Board, Steering Committee of Global Fund Advocates Network (GFAN) Africa, the African Civil Society Platform on Health (CISPHA), and the Civic Commission for Africa (CCFA) working on TICAD affairs. She is the Co-chair of the East African Community (EAC) Sexual Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) Policies and Legislation Steering Committee.

Ian MatthewsHarnessing the Power of Technology for Health Solutions During COVID-19 and Beyond