Resource hub > Smartphones, an Essential Tool to Empower Community Health Workers

Smartphones, an Essential Tool to Empower Community Health Workers

By: TIP Global Health | January 25, 2022

In 1995, Rwanda established the Rwanda Community Health Workers (CHW) Program. The aim was to increase uptake of essential maternal and child clinical services through education of pregnant women, promotion of healthy behaviors, control of infectious diseases and follow-up and linkages to health services.

The program has been very effective and there is an increasing recognition of the important role that Community Health Workers (CHWs) play in the public health services. They increase health care access for the rural and remote populations; contribute to bridging the gap between communities, health and social services.

The journey of the past 26 years has not been easy but has proven to be very important and lifesaving! The CHWs volunteer their time, which means they are not salaried and quite often do not have knowledge or education on health services and diseases that should be prevented. This journey also comes with multiple challenges, most notably the traditional paper-based reporting system (forms) – which include issues such as data loss, storage space, difficulty in carrying files with confidential data, difficulty in tracing past patient files, and are time consuming to organize and file.

In 2008, TIP Global Health was established as a non-governmental organization in Rwanda, previously known as The Ihangane Project. TIP was founded with the mandate to deliver quality primary health care at the last mile. First, TIP piloted a project to establish mobile HIV services at seven rural health centers, which included the establishment of solar power at sites dependent on off-grid electricity. Next, TIP aimed to eliminate the transmission of mother to child HIV while dramatically reducing childhood malnutrition. 

To succeed in these endeavors, TIP had to develop an innovative strategy for the CHWs while also aligning with national systems to strengthen primary health care delivery and to achieve Sustainable Development Goals. It was clear to TIP that the innovative use of digital solutions would enable faster and more diverse information collection and in exchange support more informed decision making at all levels.

Despite the high uptake of information and communication technologies (ICT) in Rwanda, TIP realized that the community healthcare workers (CHWs) did not yet have the knowledge to fully utilize computerized systems. In 2018, TIP piloted its E-Heza Data Solution, bringing digital health to rural communities while also giving many CHWs an opportunity to utilize a smartphone for the first time.

Of course, not all smartphones are created equal, especially for highly regulated and ever-evolving industries like healthcare. It was paramount to get the right smartphone that would deliver the mobile productivity, performance, and the security features necessary to keep the data collected safe.

In 2021, TIP joined hands with Mara Phones Rwanda, and didn’t just get a smartphone – we found a partner to walk with us in the development and digital growth of CHWs. Together, our partnership will support a reduction in the workload of CHWs, an improvement in data collection, reporting and monitoring, the provision of quality healthcare services, supportive supervision, and better organization of CHW tasks, therefore improving community health outcomes. 

Today, Agnes Umutoni, like many other CHWs who utilize E-Heza Data Solutions for their work, starts her day early to the sound of an alarm from her Mara Z1 smartphone. A couple of years ago, she could not have imagined starting her day using technology, much less owning a smartphone.

“Before, home visits and referrals required a lot of paperwork and were very tiring,” Agnes says. “But with the E-Heza Data Solution and the use of my Mara Z1, the work is much easier and quicker.”

Not only has the smartphone doubled as an alarm, it has become a clock to keep track of time or a torch when she travels during the night to or from visiting a patient. Although a first time smartphone user, Agnes today turns her smartphone on and swipes and slides through the screen with ease. This achievement is from the digital literacy training TIP conducts when training the CHWs on the use of E-Heza.

The TIP Global Health and Mara Phones Rwanda partnership aims to reach 29 Health Centers and more than 5,000 CHWs. TIP’s Founder, Dr. Wendy Leonard, is thrilled to find a partner that is local and shares a common belief in innovation “From the beginning, TIP Global Health has believed that everyone, everywhere could have access to quality health care. We understand that relationships are the cornerstone of primary health care systems and are critical to building the future we all want and deserve. We are excited to partner with the premier local smartphone manufacturer in Rwanda that shares a common vision and understands the needs of CHWs.”

Mara Phones Rwanda Managing Director, Mr. Eddy Sebera, views this partnership as one of many more creative and meaningful collaborations to come: “The importance of technology in healthcare is becoming increasingly evident and we all understand and acknowledge that smartphones are no longer a luxury, they are a necessity. We are here to serve and contribute to the digitalization of our Economy by providing and most importantly partnering with home grown solutions such as the E-Heza Data Solution.”

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