In collaboration with the Homa Bay County government, World Health Partners is training ten local entrepreneurs to use a mobile phone-enabled device to connect to a telemedicine healthcare network that is serving rural Kenya.
June 9, 2015, Homa Bay, Kenya: Last week, World Health Partners (WHP) began training ten local entrepreneurs—six of them women—to use a special, mobile phone-enabled device developed by WHP to connect rural communities and doctors far away through a telemedicine-linked Sky network in Western Kenya.
The entrepreneurs are being trained to use basic SIM card-powered cellphones to offer community members a way to share vital medical information with network doctors. The network is set up using a device that activates with the same SIM card used by phones and sends blood pressure and pulse readings, stethoscope sounds, cardiac signals, and temperature via mobile phones.
Doctors can then advise patients and community health workers on the best course of action, including whether treatment or lab work is advised or whether the patient needs to be referred to a higher-level healthcare facility.
“The aim is to harness the entrepreneurial energies and social relationships that are naturally inlaid in village communities and combine them with the medical skills ‘imported’ through simple technologies to deliver much needed primary health care in rural Kenya,” said Gopi Gopalakrishnan, WHP President and Founder.
Local entrepreneurs are making an upfront investment of up to $1000 USD, which they have raised on their own. They will then offer mobile health consultations with participating doctors to community members on a commercial basis to recoup their investments.
“While the services are delivered on a commercial basis now, the same structure can be used to reach poor patients with subsidized services in the time to come,” said Akhilesh Sharma, technical advisor to the project.
WHP, a non-profit organization that is mandated to deliver services to rural and underserved communities in the developing world, is managing the backend of the telemedicine network. The Western Kenya Sky network is modeled on successful work WHP has done in India to develop technologies and management systems, which have networked close to 12,000 village healthcare providers with more highly trained medical professionals.
“The training of these ten entrepreneurs is just the beginning for us, with 15 more joining the next batch soon. All the participants are from some of the most rural parts of Homa Bay where getting basic health care is a struggle,” said Dollina Odera, the program lead of WHP in Kenya. “WHP has also initiated discussions to use similar technologies to strengthen the public sector delivery systems,” said Odera.
Last week’s training kicks off the work outlined under a formal memorandum of understanding (MOU) WHP signed with Homa Bay County officials in April to launch a Sky Network there to deliver more healthcare services in rural communities.
The Homa Bay County Sky Network will build on the work WHP has already done in the states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar in India. In these areas, WHP has offered more than 150,000 teleconsultations, largely for primary care. Sky Network providers in India offer family planning services, tuberculosis care, and child health services for illnesses like pneumonia and diarrhea.
Last year, WHP launched its first Sky Network in Kenya in Kisumu and Siaya counties in partnership with Kisumu Medical and Education Trust (KMET). So far, they have recruited over 90 community healthcare providers and offered over 1,000 teleconsultations. Work outlined under the new MOU with Homa Bay County will expand these numbers significantly.