EAC Digital Pioneers – Harnessing the Power of Digital Technologies for Health Solutions (GIZ)

East Africa has faced various disease outbreaks in the past. 2020 showcased the vulnerability of the region to infectious diseases through the spread of COVID-19. In situations like this, the availability of reliable health information to everyone is key to safeguard lives.

In fact, there is a need to scale up access to health services in the region and organisations like the Eastern Africa National Networks of AIDS and Health Service Organisations (EANNASO) are spearheading regional exchange platforms for knowledge sharing on health-related matters. Headquartered in Arusha, Tanzania, EANNASO is a regional network of civil society and community-based organisations in seven Eastern African countries, namely: Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda and Ethiopia.

Recognising the need of increasing health information availability, a collaboration between EANNASO and the Centre of Excellence for ICT in East Africa (CENIT@EA) was established in 2020. The partnership focuses on the need to develop a regional platform for dissemination of information, assisting border communities as well as people traveling in the region to locate medical facilities. In September 2020, EANNASO invited Happyness Alexander, a CENIT@EA Master’s student specialised in Mobile Systems, to a six-month internship to develop digital solutions for increasing availability of health information in the region.

“For EANNASO the CENIT@EA Young Professionals programme came in quite timely and has proved to be fruitful in filling in the gaps that existed within the organisation’s efforts in pioneering digital solutions. It amplified our plans on scaling new innovative products and services to the regional communities we serve”, explains Olive Mumba, Executive Director at EANNASO.

It really did work out quite well! Happyness successfully transformed EANNASO’s existing Afya Digital website previously initiated and developed with financial support from the EAC’s Incubator for Integration and Development in East Africa (IIDEA). The website currently covers Kenya and Tanzania but will be scaled up across the African continent in time.

With the help of Happyness the website’s information is now also available via a newly-developed mobile application known as Wananchi Afya Digital. The app is envisioned to be accessible online and offline for Android phones to ease the access of information for users at any time. It will provide real-time access to health alerts for travelers including an outlook of the health situation in a particular country and shares necessary measures to abide to. Users will also find information on nearest health facilities including map locations.

Happyness highlights, “My development assists border communities to actually locate the nearest health facility at a distance of 370 kilometers from Tanzania and Kenya borders to acquire health services from specialised health facilities using the app. Moreover, it can be accessed in English and Swahili.”

After the completion of Happyness’ project, EANNASO plans to engage CENIT@EA for a post-internship support component on digital skills training for its employees, to further support on the sustainability and enhancement of the digital solutions. EANNASO acknowledges the power of digital technology in stemming health solutions and sees a positive influence of digital transformation in the achievement of the organization’s goal in the future, thus scaling up access to health services beyond the borders of Tanzania and Kenya.

“Numerous projects are in the pipeline and a continued engagement of Young Professionals from CENIT@EA will enable EANNASO to pilot and evaluate the feasibility of the new digital products and services in the market”, notes Rodrick W. Mugishagwe, TB Program Officer and Knowledge Management & Learning Team Leader at EANNASO.

For Happyness, it was an exciting six months, “The internship has been very fulfilling since it relied on my area of expertise and broadens my knowledge on Mobile Apps at the same time.” Looking into the future, she adds, “My next plan is to teach students on my area of expertise, and if everything works out, I would like to join PhD studies. However, I will also work hand-in-hand with the CENIT@EA programme for inspiring my fellow students on benefits of skills to be used after school in return of income. I offer my participation whenever CENIT is conducting any training for career development.”

Find out more about CENIT@EA here.

Photo: ©EAC-GIZ_Roshni Lodhia