A Symbol of mHealth in Tanzania: Baby Husna

Tuesday 15 Jul 2014 |

By Edele Sheehan

The Road to Mbola

“How much further is it?” I asked Luca, who was driving us from Mwanza, on the banks of Lake Victoria, to Mbola, a very small village close to Tabora, 344km to the south. It wasn’t the first time I asked him, as we hurtled along the road on what was to be a 10-hour road trip, there and back.

My colleague Kim and I were in Tanzania for a number of exciting reasons; to gather data on mHealth services for the GSMA Tanzania mHealth Country Feasibility Report, which will be published in September; to participate in a GSMA workshop which gathered together mHealth stakeholders currently engaged in Tanzania; and to meet and film a number of mHealth services that have a particular focus on nutrition. Having arrived in Dar es Salaam late the night before, we rose early for a pre-dawn flight to Mwanza and then met Luca, who would take us to Mbola. The road was not paved for the last 2 hours of the drive to Mbola, which brought home to me the fact that rural really is rural and that the mobile phone is an absolute and undisputed necessity for the people that live in this and so many similar villages in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Baby Husna

When at last we arrived in Mbola, we met a the team of people who work for an mHealth service that watches over the health of baby Husna, 2 months old, pictured above with her mother Hadija, who is 28.

Husna is lucky, on two counts. Firstly, her mother owns a mobile phone, in a country where unique subscriber penetration is 30%. Secondly her mother receives a weekly visit from her assigned Community Healthcare Worker, who performs a number of important health checks that monitor Husna’s growth rate and general health, with a focus on the prevention of stunting and malnutrition. Not available when Husna’s older brothers and sisters were born, the mHealth service that monitors Husna now reaches 7000 homes, through 60 active Community Healthcare Workers attached to 6 Healthcare Facilities. Such mHealth services are vital in a country where under-5 child mortality is 54 per 1000 births.

Nutrition

The trip to Tanzania was part of the engagement process for the GSMA’s nutrition initiative, which commenced in September 2013 and which sits under the Pan-African mHealth Initiative, focused on the launching of interoperable, sustainable and scalable mHealth services across Africa, targeting nutrition and maternal and child health. This initiative is being implemented in 10 countries. Work has already commenced in Malawi, Nigeria, Ghana and Tanzania and will be followed by Côte d’Ivoire, Kenya, Mozambique, Rwanda, Uganda and Zambia in 2015. Each country plan encompasses three major streams of activity –

  1. Development of a scalable and sustainable business case amongst a consortia of public and private stakeholders
  2. Support of the implementation of mNutrition services
  3. Replication of mNutrition services by documenting and sharing of best practice resources and tools

The launch and growth of mHealth in Tanzania and the eventual integration into the country’s health system will one day mean that Husna and other babies like her will not be considered lucky anymore. They will be considered normal.

For more information on the GSMA Mobile for Development mHealth, please contact us on mhealth@gsma.com. For information on various