While conducting our research, we spoke with practitioners from many hospitals, medical centers and medical posts throughout Africa. As we spoke, we repeatedly heard the following problems articulated:
- Women dying during childbirth
- Patient information (records) were not available where needed when they were needed
- Currently available applications, even though they may be open source, are unaffordable to maintain
Our intent is to provide computer technology to those who need it but have never had the chance to own or work with it. We do not delve into medicine, but we do have the ability to prevent situations that contribute to some of these crucial issues. Some examples follow:
While visiting medical facilities in Africa, we were reminded of the crucial issue of women dying during childbirth, so we asked what the cause of that was. One of the scenarios we heard repeated over and over again was:
A small village has a medical post with one doctor providing their medical needs. If an expectant mother in labor arrives and everything is normal, they are fine. But if there are any complications that the doctor hasn’t encountered before, the patient is instructed to go to the medical facility in the next village (or city) to get specialized help. There are no roads, so this means walking to the next facility through terrain similar to that shown in the video to the right and the mother dies.
Portable Medical Records
A situation we’ve regularly heard about when we visited countries in Africa was a need for electronic, portable medical records.
Take for example a person who is normally treated by a doctor in a remote village. His or her medical records are typically stored on paper in the village office and include things such as allergies, a list of past treatments and prescriptions that the person might take.
This person, when travelling to a nearby city or larger community falls sick or is involved in some sort of accident, he or she needs medical attention. When reaching the hospital in the city, the patient is not able to communicate with the professionals their allergy information and/or a list of prescriptions being taken. Not knowing this information, the medical staff proceeds with the most common treatment, which involves one of the things this patient is allergic to and the patient dies.
If the patient’s medical records were online and accessible from anywhere, the medical staff at the hospital would know all the important information before treating him or her.
Example: Nomadic Population
In this example, a shepherd primarily lives in one location and suffers AIDS/HIV. When first diagnosed, he had to go through numerous (expensive) tests, but was put on a treatment course which is presently helping him. Because of a drought, he needs to move his flock to another location, several miles away. When he goes to the local medical post at his new location, they need to retest him since they don’t have access to his medical records. This presents several problems, including:
- The tests are expensive
- There is a non-zero morbidity rate associated with the testing (either to the patient or those handling the patient’s blood), so a certain number of people will be put at a higher risk in the process
- Although the new doctor would have the new test results, he or she would not have the benefit of seeing the patient’s treatment history
So, having access to medical records by practitioners anywhere in the country, would save lives and reduce costs.