Solar powered mobile phones against malaria
|July 11th, 2015|
|tags:||Kisumu County, malaria prevention, Millennium Villages Health concept, solar heat|
Jecinta Akoko navigates the rough and patchy terrain as she tries to balance her bicycle. Once in a while she stops and checks a beep on her android phone, twitches her face, and returns the phone to her pocket before cycling faster.
Strapped on her back is a small bag. She has just received an alert that a four year old boy has been vomiting for the last six hours with high fever, and has been writhing in pain. Jecinta is among hundreds of community health workers who are using solar powered android phones to fight Malaria, a disease that kills on average 30,000 Kenyans per year.
In the Siaya area of Kisumu County, in the Western part of Kenya where Lake Victoria is located, Malaria prevalence is at an all time high. This is due to the fact that the area falls in the Lake endemic zone with a high breeding rate for mosquitoes. The Malaria prevalence rate in the region stands at 38 per cent according to the . And even though preventable, the disease is also responsible for 30 per cent of outpatient consultation cases, 19 per cent of admissions and 5 per cent of inpatient deaths.
But the year-round supply of solar heat is now working in favour of the locals in an area where the majority of the population is still not connected to the national grid.
Community health workers rely on the abundant solar heat to charge their phones. The health workers are trained on testing and treating malaria as countries move to reducing the number of malaria-related deaths as envisioned in the Millennium Development Goals.
The solar powered android phones are connected to a main server which is monitored by the doctors who are in constant watch for alerts from health workers. “Because we are on the ground and know the community well, they can easily reach us by calling us and we rush to where help is needed,” said Jecinta.
Every health worker is assigned between 100 and 150 households and is tasked with making monthly door-to-door visits identifying any health issues and updating their supervisors on the same.
Besides the solar-powered android phones, health workers are also equipped with malaria rapid diagnostic kits which allow for faster detection. The kit, which is mobile, takes less than five minutes to do a test and return the results, making it convenient for the health workers to move around with.
“It is such a powerful and revolutionary piece of technology, one which I have seen save numerous lives, especially the lives of the rural poor who struggle to access medical care and who are kilometers away from any medical facility,” Jecinta said. The health workers are also given bicycles to allow them reach as many homesteads as possible.
But just testing and administering drugs is not enough to tame malaria. The community health workers are also equipped with extra skills and equipment. For example, they are given de-worming tablets which they administer to children, oral rehydration salts for diarrhea, painkillers like paracetamol and ACT to treat Malaria. “This may be taken for granted but in the hinterlands of this area, these drugs are very to come by. The residents would also have to travel very long distances to get to the nearest medical facility. There is nothing as agonizing as a parent watching their child writhing in pain and there is nothing they can do. That is why this initiative is a godsend,” Jecinta added.
And to further tackle the war on malaria head on, the health workers constantly train the public on the proper use of the mosquito nets to tame new infections. Although the nets have been hailed as the magic bullet in the fight against malaria, the majority of the people don’t use them or use them incorrectly, citing discomfort sleeping under them due to the high temperatures in the area.
The community health committees which consist of selected members of the community have been pivotal in spreading the gospel of the use of nets among households, while championing basic health practices including water treatment, hand washing and toilet construction and usage.
"Since the project was introduced, Malaria related deaths have gone down considerably in the area. We are so proud it is working,” said Meshack Otieno, one of the supervisors of the project.
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