Health research and innovation project, Mobile Health for Africa (mHealth4Afrika) has received a €3 million Horizon 2020 grant to create an app for managing patient information within the public healthcare sector.

The mHealth4Afrika project, the only Horizon 2020 project awarded to SA out of seven submissions from the country, was launched in November 2015 with the focus on co-designing an open source, multilingual mHealth platform to support quality community-based maternal and newborn healthcare delivery in public clinics and hospitals in SA, Malawi, Kenya and Ethiopia.

Horizon 2020 is the biggest European Union research and innovation programme that promises more breakthroughs and discoveries by taking great ideas from the lab to the market.

Director of the Centre for Community Technologies at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU), Prof Darelle van Greunen, with European partner IIMC Research Foundation, initiated and led the 200-page grant application that took 14 months to complete, reported BD Live.

A report on the Countdown to the 2015 Millennium Development Goals showed SA had reduced under-five child mortality from 61 per 1,000 births in 1990 to 45, but it did not meet the Millennium Development Goals target of 20 by December 2015.

SA has also made slow progress in cutting maternal deaths from 150 per 100,000 in 1990 to 140 by last year, against a target of 38.

van Greunen is confident that their mHealth system will significantly assist in the prevention and early detection of problems during pregnancy, childbirth and early childhood, which are the biggest causes of death in Africa.

In SA and other African countries, where primary and public healthcare records are mostly paper based, electronic record management could contribute to more efficient healthcare management.

NMMU is partnering with several universities on the project — including Strathmore University, Kenya; University of Malawi; University of Gondar, Ethiopia; Ulster University, Northern Ireland; and University of Oslo, Norway.

“The DHIS2 technology platform we are using was originally developed by the University of Oslo and is the preferred health management information system used in 47 countries across four continents,” said van Greunen.

“Strathmore University in Kenya will be leading the development of the system for Africa. The system needs to be country specific. For example, in Ethiopia the system needs to be translated into Amharic,” continued van Greunen.

If the mHealth4Afrika project succeeds in the three-year pilot project, it will be implemented in 14 other African countries and expanded to include all areas of public hospital healthcare.

The project is one of many information and communications technology (ICT) solutions van Greunen and her postgraduate team at NMMU’s Centre for Community Technology are developing. They are also building a school health-screening app, which is being piloted over three years in the Eastern Cape.

“We spend a great deal of time speaking to people in national government in order to align what we do with national and continental priorities. What we do in SA must also be transportable to our neighbouring countries and throughout Africa where we collaborate with numerous partners,” concluded van Greunen.

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