Samara Hammond, AMREF UK Q&A: Mobilising Africa’s CHWs

21 October 2013 |

AMREF is in the pilot phase of its mobile health training programme in Kenya, Africa. Samara Hammond, CEO of AMREF’s UK branch talks to Capacity about the huge impact of mobile health services in the region.

What is the mobile health training programme designed to do?

The programme, developed in partnership with Accenture, is designed to support the training of community health workers (CHWs) in Africa, using mobile phones.

The really exciting thing about this programme is that it’s also developing a platform, which other applications can use.

We are already developing applications around collecting health information and community disease surveillance, and the idea can be expanded on existing applications as well. For example, if and when Kenya gets to a point where it pays its CHWs, you could pay them across the platform via a service like M-Pesa.

So the pilot project which we’re deploying at the moment is going to be a great addition to the health training system, but the really exciting part is the platform it sits on. 

How did the idea emerge?

There is a huge human resources gap in Africa – as there is in many developing countries – and the African Union stated that they wanted to commit to training CHWs.

There aren’t enough clinicians, doctors, nurses, midwives etc. for the African population, so CHWs are assigned as human resources for health. These are typically volunteers from within the community who are given a slightly enhanced medical training.

The continent leapfrogged to mobile technology [avoiding fixed-line] and consequently there is high mobile penetration – especially among those who are community health workers.

In Africa, 70% of people have a basic mobile phone as opposed to a smartphone, so the challenge is getting these services and the training to operate smoothly on such a device.

We’re not giving them anything in terms of technology, we’re not giving them mobile phones or computers; we’re giving them information via something they already have.

From a sustainability point of view, it’s a much longer-lasting option.

Do you hope to expand the platform across Africa or even worldwide?

Stage one is running from Kenya [where AMREF is headquartered and houses 95% of its total global staff] and we’ve developed the platform, content and pedagogies – meaning we’ve taken a small handful of CHWs and tested teaching on them.

In January, we will be rolling it out to a bigger group for three months and beyond that, for stage two, we plan to try and scale it up at pace – add more applications and get it working more efficiently for wider use.

Stage three will be to implement it on a much-larger scale across Africa.

What has been the role of your partners – Safaricom, Vodafone and the M-Pesa foundation – for the project?

Safaricom is one of our main partners for the project, as well as Vodafone via its subsidiary, Mezzanine.

Mezzanine is developing the platform and Safaricom is supporting us in terms of the network and the eventual product roll-out.

We are also part-funded by the M-Pesa foundation, which is a relatively new charitable foundation. We were one of their first grantees, which is really exciting and the relationship is going incredibly well.

We do a steering group teleconference every two weeks, where all three partners and AMREF come together.

How will AMREF’s mobile health platform compare to other, similar offerings across Africa?

There are a huge number of charities that work in Africa, but they’re all overseas organisations. We started in Africa 57 years ago – we have African leadership and the majority of our staff our African.

In terms of mobile health, there are roughly 120 similar projects run by various charitable organisations across Africa, but most of those are single-point mobile applications: they just do one thing.

The benefit of our mobile health solution is that because we’re developing a platform, there is scope to do so much more with it. Our long-term vision is to give CHWs an all-encompassing resource – and that’s really exciting.