I read this article Think you have it tough? Try having a baby in Uganda by Leila Jana a few weeks ago and I was absolutely astounded by the reality of health care in Africa. I wondered if this was a script from a horror movie. Unfortunately this is not the case. This is how many throughout Africa experience medical treatment.
“I’ve toured scores of these wards over the years, but each time return I’m newly shocked by the avoidable tragedies unfolding within them — young girls who appear days after they’ve entered labor with stillborn children inside them, women leaking urine and feces due to horrific birth injuries, listless but hopeful future mothers whose unborn babies suffer from fetal malaria. I learned on this trip that if women do not arrive at the hospital with a “Maama Kit” — a safe birth kit containing gloves, a sterilized razor blade, and a clean plastic sheet on which they can deliver — doctors can’t accommodate them. Women often borrow used gloves and razor blades from other mothers in the ward, leading to the spread of HIV and other diseases.”
It all seems F****** up
Health care is F***** up in Africa. Ok there is nothing new here.. especially now when the whole world is panicking about the Ebola virus. When you come across the harsh fact that many people across our countries are experiencing living nightmares when they encounter treatment there is a sense of hopelessness. Either there are not enough doctors, or not enough trained nurses, or there is the horror of non existent budgets, lack of medical supplies and spread of disease.
I recently went to Zambia and I could not believe what I saw when I visited the department of Health. It was a metaphor to many of the problems going on. Health care workers and administrators were cramped into tiny rooms with wall to wall binders and old documents. It was so daunting to see how archaic and overwhelming the paperwork they had to deal with. I realized how spoiled I had become and that the digital divide was not only dire but dangerous. Most of the task that they did were administrative and I wonder how they could possibly deal with systemic issues that led to so many deaths. Surely there is something to be done as Africa goes digital.
Where There is No Doctor
My parents had this book on their bookshelf, when I was younger it was distributed in rural areas, Where There is No Doctor. The book has stuck in my head maybe because of its grizzly images and I really thought it was the beginning and the end to my career in the medical field. But thinking on this now there was something empowering about the acceptance that you are most likely never gonna see a doctor where you are, so here is something that you can do. Like that book Where There is No Doctor I believe that technology has a way to intervene. I do not presume to say that it is a total replacement of medical expertise and training but mobile technology now how has the potential to reach those who were unreachable.
I wish it was as easy as just giving everyone a smartphone but of course things are not that simple. Africa is home to more mHealth projects than anywhere else on the globe. This is great news there are many apps and projects out there that have been fantastic (Ten excellent mHealth Projects in Africa), however the challenges seem to be the way we go about thinking about this.
There is a top down approach where WE (educated, technologists, funders, ngo’s, healthcare system workers) give YOU (patients, those with little access to healthcare, men and women in rural areas) tools that WE design to improve your health.
As a designer I already know that this approach is flawed. Rather than distributing platforms and tools we should be encouraging a collaborative environment where there is no doctor where rapid prototyping could be implemented to see what technological tools can improve the quality of primary care.
Useful vs. Useless
I have made some grandiose claims here but one claim I cannot make is being a doctor. I am approaching this through the eyes of a designer obsessed with digital tools and a passion for creating tools and products that can improve the way people live in Africa ( a bit grandiose and ambitious, i know 😉 I defer to my partner Dr. Musaed Abrahams for medical advice but what I do know is what is USEFUL and what is USELESS!!!
Getting on the ground and listening
Endless unaffordable conferences about what the problems are. Remotely creating applications that have no context in hardest hit areas.
thinking outside the box when it comes to primary access to care.
vibrating pedometer for your penis and countless useless health apps on Google Play and the Apple store.
Spirit of collaboration amongst odd pairings (Doctor/Designer, Rural Nurses/Filmmakers.. etc)
finger pointing and cliquish behavior amongst certain groups. Withholding of information because of status.
The Aviro Experience
Like I mentioned before this is my first mhealth experience and I have come in as an outsider into the medical world. As a creative I have gained a world of experience as well as met formidable doctors, nurses and clinicians who have fought through the onslaught of challenges. From them I have grown as a designer and as a digital creator.
- Shut up and listen – it took a long time for me to learn the language but I realize the importance of listening to the core problems and framework where those on the ground experience. The clinicians I encountered have always had creative and thought provoking ideas that were mired in ‘doctor speak’ but at the heart of it they were the experts so ofcourse they were the best repository for great ideas.
- Avoid a one-size-fits-all approach. Respond to what people’s needs are, great creative and explore untraditional methods
- Be flexible. Be aware to not get stuck into your own zone and refuse to accept changes and revisions. Create bridges for exploration and collaboration.
- Prototype Early and Often – As soon as you can get a prototype of an idea get it to your core users. No it is not perfect but think of your project as a growing organism. “if it is too perfect, you launched too late”.
- You are only as good as the Experts – I don’t care what you have to do but find the best of the best and befriend them as soon as possible. Surround yourself with those who you admire and elevate you. They make you work better, they make you waste less time and they make your product, app, solution more powerful.
We shall be talking about our process, experience and our app at Social Media Week Johannesburg. Join us there.
If you want to be part of a super special group and demo the app earlier sign up here.
Or if you have a fantastic related idea/app/project and want to collaborate. Send me an email.