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Tanzania’s first blockchain baby rubberstamps power of tech in medical care

June 25, 2019
tags:#healthcare, #Tanzania, #Sub-Saharan Africa, #blockchain, #refugees
located:Tanzania, Ireland, Kenya
by:Bob Koigi
Tanzania has become the first country to produce a blockchain enabled baby in the world, in what industry players have billed as a major milestone in boosting access to medical care especially among pregnant women and new born children, reducing maternal and infant deaths while promoting transparency and ensuring donor aid and medication go to the intended recipients.

Through a project by Aid.Tech, an Irish based organisation and PharmAccess Foundation that offers healthcare access across Africa, the project, which was inspired by personal experiences of wastage and fraud in aid distribution, targeted vulnerable and underprivileged pregnant women in Tanzania by using blockchain technology to collect data on each woman and storing it as medical ledgers which ensured that they were able to access pre- and postnatal services, and their babies once delivered never missed crucial medical attention. The system also made it possible for each woman’s medical needs to be attended to promptly based on the medical records that captured each woman’s health condition.

The initial project entailed identifying pregnant women and assigning each of them a unique digital identity that allowed them to access key medical supplies like folic acid. The identification also assisted the project to track the journey of the pregnant women from registration, medical appointments, delivery and the status of the newborns.

If for example a mother was recommended to get a specific number of drugs, she was the only one who could access them following a series of verification processes under a blockchain system that also sought to tame fraud across the entire chain.

And in a historic move, the first baby born out of this blockchain-inspired process was born on July 13th last year followed by two more on July 19 in Tanzania. With their records on a digital ledger, it means the babies can now easily access medical attention and funding without the fear of misappropriation along the supply chain, as has been the case traditionally.

The initiative has received a warm reception from tech enthusiasts across Sub-Saharan Africa at a time when the region has been battling the twin problems of poor healthcare that has claimed millions of lives and corruption and misappropriation of funds that have almost brought the entire sector to its knees especially in public healthcare.

And as blockchain increasingly becomes Africa’s magic bullet for solving some of the continent’s most biting challenges including land ownership and refugee crises, techpreneurs now believe healthcare would be the next beneficiary of this immutable technology.

“Even as Sub-Saharan Africa makes great strides in tackling some of the biggest problems in healthcare including the need for more hospitals and doctors, we are experiencing enormous strains in especially the public healthcare where even though vital medical resources are distributed and governments and aid agencies spend a fortune in these resources, they never get to the intended people. We are therefore grappling with issues of people dying of Malaria not because we do not have medicine, but because of the fraud within the supply chain. Technology especially blockchain remains our only silver bullet against these malpractices,” said Rashid Kami an ICT consultant based in Dar es Salaam.

An investigation by world public health donor, Global Fund to fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria revealed that between 2009 and 2011, more than $2.5 million worth of drugs had either been stolen or diverted from intended use in 13 countries majority of them from Africa. 70% of the drugs had been stolen from government-operated warehouses in a plot that was masterminded by key state officials working with doctors, the dossier further revealed.

This, at a time when an approximated 830 women die from pregnancy-related complications globally each day according to World Health Organization estimates with more than half of these deaths occurring in Sub-Saharan Africa in what the institution attributes to inequalities in access to health services, a pointer to the yawning gap between the rich and the poor. On the other hand, approximately 5.4 million children below five years died in 2017 with about half of them being from Sub-Saharan Africa according to UNICEF.

A new crop of young innovators is now trying to correct this sorry state of affairs by investing in technology. Bukhary Kibonajoro, a Tanzanian is one of them. His cloud-based software platform, Okoa, Swahili for Save, follows the flow of drugs from the government stores to the health facilities and to patients up to the last tablet. It has been one of the country’s saving grace in sealing leakages and losses.

“Where Okoa is being used, the pharmacists are very keen on ensuring that not even a single tablet is lost because they know the technology will force them to account for it. This has greatly improved medical access with patients in the hospitals where the innovation is implemented saying they are able to get the drugs prescribed to them and in the right time,” Bukhary told FairPlanet in an earlier interview.

Now blockchain is rewriting the rules in what could redeem Africa’s public healthcare. “The success of the blockchain project in maternal care in Tanzania needs to be replicated to other African countries and to the entire health sector which needs some serious streamlining. This is a game-changer that will ensure that we not only arrest fraud but also save millions of lives and ensure everyone is able to access affordable medical care without a hustle,” said Kimani Muchungi a technology for development advocate in Kenya.

Article written by:
Bob Koigi
Bob Koigi
Author, Contributing Editor
Tanzania Ireland Kenya
Embed from Getty Images
Women in Tanzania use the blockchain technology to collect data on each woman and store it as medical ledgers which ensure that they are able to access pre- and post- natal services.
Embed from Getty Images
The initial project entailed identifying pregnant women and assigning each of them a unique digital identity that allowed them to access key medical supplies like folic acid.
Embed from Getty Images
And in a historic move, the first baby born out of this blockchain inspired process was born on July 13th last year followed by two more on July 19 in Tanzania.
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