Update on Ethiopia Visit

Have just returned from another visit back to Ethiopia, a week in Mekelle to see how the Health Workers are getting on, followed by a few days in Addis, mainly in meetings and catching up with friends.

The new batch of Health Workers who started with us in the last 3 months are doing really well, and we updated their phones with the latest version of the mobile learning app, along with the video content. The research program is due to run until April next year, and we’re looking at ways in which Health Workers can transition over to the new national mHealth program. This national program has started recently and the pilot area in Tigray (there are other pilot areas in other regions) overlaps with where we’ve been working and the HEWs are already familiar with the phones.

Although the national pilot is focused on maternal care, so the forms/protocols and technology used should be very similar, I think there are some differences in the implementation. I’m not sure the details have been finalised, but the information I currently have is that there will be one phone per health post (so 1 per 2 HEWs) and the phones will have some restrictions on which apps can be accessed. I’m not sure how the HEWs who have been working on our research program will react to this, as is more restrictive than what they have become used to. I think one of the reasons that our project has been relatively successful is because we tried to encourage the HEWs to take real ownership of the phones, they have one each and we allow them to use any of the apps on the phone (or even install apps themselves). I think this ownership explains why we’ve had such a low level of loss/breakage (only one phone was stolen, but then later recovered) and we’ve had very few technical issues (accidentally deleting apps/files etc). There will be much more information on all this once we get the feasibility and technical papers finalised and published in the coming months.

Whilst in Mekelle I also visited the Health Sciences campus and the lab we set up there over 3 years ago now. The lab is still (just about) running, surprising given the very low level of maintenance it has had for the last couple of years. The Health Sciences college has been investing a huge amount in improving student computer access. They’ve recently purchased over 300 Macs, most people don’t believe me, until they see the photo, so here it is:

Mac lab at Ayder campus

Although it wasn’t quite up and running when I visited, they’re just waiting for the wireless network to be set up, the lab looks really impressive and is almost certainly the most number of Macs in one room in Ethiopia! I should also mention that these Macs weren’t from a donor, but purchased directly by the college. I hope the students can make really full and effective use of this resource. I believe the college also has plans to buy large numbers of Galaxy Notes, for students to be able to loan from the library in the same way they loan books. These new Macs are in addition to a smaller Mac lab (approx 50 machines) which has been established for a while now.

Back in Addis in the last week, we’ve had lots of meeting with various NGOs and technology companies here, as there is now a lot of interest here in mHealth, specifically around using smartphones. So hope our research project in Tigray can provide a lot of information and lessons learned to contribute to the success of any new projects. But I still get the feeling that mHealth is seen as the silver bullet rather than just the tool. I think mHealth by itself is unlikely to solve many underlying problems of low level of training, lack of motivation etc.

I also met up with Ahmed, a masters student from Addis Uni, who recently contacted me about porting our mobile learning application to run on J2ME phones. He has made excellent progress and it looks really good, but still a few areas to get finished off. I’d originally thought he was doing this as part of his masters project, but seems not, he’s just doing this because he’s interested and wants to move into programming/computing after he finishes his masters.

Here are the rest of the photos I took:

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