ICT Innovations in Kenya: Q & A with Elizabeth Mwashuma

With over 30 member institutions across the Sub-Saharan Africa region, the Africa Capacity Alliance (ACA) is a central actor when addressing improvements to health systems strengthening including infrastructure and human resource capacity. ACA has attained a wide range of success in the 12 countries where it implements its initiatives. Through the ACA network, many organizations have benefitted from institutional strengthening initiatives and this has seen like-minded organizations coming together to strengthen regional networks. ACA has gained recognition for its training activities and opportunities which attracts hundreds of stakeholders. ACA acts as a hub for resources used for capacity development on various areas on health systems strengthening. One such avenue through which ACA delivers its mandate is the Center for Health Market Innovations (CHMI).

Recently, we had the opportunity to catch up with Ms. Elizabeth Mwashuma, a key staff member for ACA’s CHMI team in Nairobi, Kenya. As part of her responsibilities, Ms. Mwashuma has been working with CHMI innovators and county level governments to help scale up the innovations and strengthen health management information systems for better maternal and child health (MCH) outcomes.

RN: Describe your background and your role at ACA and how you’ve been involved with CHMI?

EM: My background is in ICT and health informatics, and I am currently pursuing MSc in Applied computing majoring in ICT4D. At ACA, I am the ICT officer and manages the CHMI project since March 2013.

So far, we’ve worked to identify innovative health programs, linking them with opportunities for scaling up. This has been done through organizing roundtable discussion workshops which provide a platform for showcasing innovative programs and providing opportunities for exchange and linkage creation between the private sector health innovations and public sector health systems; with ultimate goal of leading to partnerships.

RN: As part of CHMI, you’ve drawn on your background in health informatics to connect stakeholders, including governments, with new ICT and health management platforms. Why did you start to study health informatics?

EM: When I first registered for my masters program, I never thought I would specialize in health informatics, but then I realized that health informatics is a dynamic field with endless opportunities. With the advent of ICT for Development (ICT4D), we are constantly exploring ways in which ICT can be used to solve world’s most pressing problems especially in health — for instance; how can ICT be used to help a mother in the rural areas to readily access maternal and child healthcare information? How can ICT be used to track drugs in a rural health center? Health informatics provides solutions for such problems.

RN: Since you have been involved in managing CHMI project innovations, are there some examples of exciting ICT and health programs in Kenya or the region?

EM:  Yeah, for sure. One such exciting program is ZiDi. ZiDi is an innovative health management application focusing on the bottom of the pyramid (BoP) population and automates the entire patient encounter process from registration to discharge. It also provides real time tracking of drugs inventory.

Another one is CHW Buddy. CHW Buddy enables community health workers (CHW) to track households visited in a community,  disseminate important health information to members of the community, improve out-patient medication adherence and escalate challenges experienced in the field to relevant trained medical personnel.  It’s a new program that will soon be part of the CHMI network.

RN: During your work with county governments, for example in Meru and Kiambu counties where CHMI has been working to facilitate PPPs, what are the primary needs counties are identifying as it relates to ICT in health?

EM: Some of the priority gaps identified at the county level include need for a health information system that is able to measure maternal and child healthcare indicators, how to use technology to improve health-seeking behaviors of expectant mothers and using technology to provide reproductive health education.

RN: As Kenya undergoes its devolution process, what changes are you seeing or expect to see, and how is devolution influencing the way ACA works?

EM: Based on our work with various counties, as ACA, we are beginning to notice that there is an increasing demand for health innovations and health PPPs at the county level. Some of the challenges which hinder the scale up of innovations in the counties include lack of clear mechanisms and approaches for innovators to effectively engage with the national and county level health departments.

ACA bridges this gap by facilitating roundtable meetings which have continued to achieve their objective of providing opportunities for technical exchanges and policy dialogues, networking and establishing linkages among the innovators, investors, the national and county Governments and donors and ultimately towards the identification of policy level directions for strengthening Kenya’s health market ecosystem

RN: What do you see as CHMI’s role in Kenya today, or going forward?

EM: There is still a lot that CHMI can do to support the Kenyan healthcare system. For example, there are still a lot of programs that need to be registered on the database and this CHMI can effectively achieve. Adding them to the database is however not an end in itself, - there is a lot of work that still needs to be done to make sure that these programs are of low cost, high impact, bankable, and comprehensive - and not just pilot programs.

There is need to conduct deeper assessments of the programs on the online database to identify those that need help scaling up and to refine their business operating models, in order to prepare them for PPPs.