Posts tagged ‘mekelle’

New Mums for Mums website



Today Mums for Mums launched their new website, they are a local charity in Mekelle – see their new website for more info about what they do! Just before I left my VSO placement I was helping them update their website to make it easier for them to post up news stories and keep it up to date, but we didn’t get chance to make the new WordPress-powered site live. However, over the last few months, Kat (from the UK) has been volunteering with Mums for Mums in Mekelle and has got the new site updated, re-designed and given training for the staff on how to post up news stories and maintain the site. It’s really great to have the new site finally up and running!

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:

VSO lecturer placements

VSO currently has many placements available in Ethiopia, especially in the Technology/Engineering departments of large universities. The placements listed below are just those available in Mekelle (there are more available in Addis, Jimma and Bahir Dar):

The full list of placements can be found at: (see the Education section)

Ethiopia Visit Update

I’ve just come back from a 10 day visit back to Ethiopia, spending a week back in Mekelle visiting our phd students’ projects and a few days in Addis following up some contacts there for future project development.

Case Management Tools for HEWs
We spent a couple of days with the Health Extension Workers and midwives who are using the maternal care protocols and scorecard:

  • We introduced them to the HEAT mobile application we have been working on recently. Their feedback this was really positive. They liked being able to access the videos directly on their mobiles.
  • One of our concerns was that they’d have trouble with the content and quizzes all being in English, but actually what the HEWs told us was that they liked it being in English, since the entrance exam for the HEAT programme will be in English, so having the self assessment questions in English is actually good practice for them. Although the real test will be if we see them continuing to use use it.
  • They seemed to like the changes that we’ve recently introduced to the protocol forms and appreciate that the changes we are making are based on their suggestions for improvements. They seem keen to see us using the same system for other aspects of their work, for example IMCI (Integrated Management of Childhood Illnesses), tuberculosis, immunisations and others.
  • The HEWs really like the mobiles and seem to have very few problems using them. In fact several have managed to create their own facebook accounts, even though we have never mentioned anything about this, plus other general internet access.
  • Something we noticed was that many HEWs were not using the rubber protective covers for the phones, or the bags we provided. Apparently the rubber covers make it difficult to fit the phone in their pockets, and the bags are too small to hold the other items they need to carry for work. So we need to rethink what we provide them to help protect the phones. We’re thinking about getting the TVET college in Wukro to make some leather bags for us. They made the tables for our elearning labs at Mekelle Uni, so we just need to find a good bag design for them to create a sample for us.
  • Solar lamps/chargers – originally we had given the HEWs a d.light to use to recharge the phones and for lighting. As a trial, we also bought one ST2 solar lamp/charger from the Solar Energy Foundation office in Addis. It seems only a few HEWs use the solar chargers for recharging their phones, most, even though they don’t have electricity supply at their Health Posts, charge their phones at home or elsewhere in the local town. For those who are using the solar lamps/chargers, they felt the one from ST2 was better as the battery lasted longer, and fully charged the phone. This works well for us since these devices are available in-country whereas the d.lights we would need to import. The cost for each type of device is roughly similar.

A couple of other observations/notes:

  • Phone reliability. So far, after almost a year of usage, we have had a much lower level of phone breakage or loss that we originally expected. Our initial expectation was that we may need to replace around 25% of the phones per year. However, so far we have had no phones lost or stolen. The only hardware issue we’ve had so far is with some phones having insensitive touch screens. 3 of the 20 phones we initially bought have got insensitive screens, although 2 of these had insensitive screens when we initially bought them. We have some replacement screen kits, so we’ll try to fix these. We’re very pleased with this low level of breakage/loss, especially since we are using second-hand phones bought on eBay.
  • We also need to start looking at which phone models may be a good replacement for the HTC Hero phones. Although the HTC Hero phones have been working well for us so far, they are a relatively old phone model, and their availability is likely to decrease, so soon we’ll start to look at which phones may make a good replacement model, based on cost/performance and availability. The only Android phones which seem to locally available are high end Samsung Phones, priced at almost 14,000 birr (approx 640 Euros) they are a little expensive!
  • We heard that one of the local phone manufacturers may start to produce Android phones, so these could be a good alternative option to importing phones.
  • I made few measurements of the GPRS speed, using the Android app. I’ve put this information in a separate blog post (and will post a link here).
  • Henock, one of the research assistants, has been doing a really good job of following up and training the HEWs. I think it also helps a lot that he is from the local area where the HEWs are based.

Another local mHealth project
Whilst in Adigudem, we visited the health centre where they are running another mHealth project – funded by the Clinton Foundation. It’s a very different system to ours, as it’s SMS based, any newly pregnant mothers are registered on the system (by a technician in the Health Centre), with basic information, such as name, location, LMP & EDD. Then when the EDD approaches the HEW receives an SMS to remind the woman to go to the Health Centre for delivery. The HEW needs to respond, using a code to inform the health centre that she has received the message and whether she has been able to contact the mother.

Elearning Thin Client Labs
We visited the elearning lab at Ayder campus, but unfortunately it seems neither of the 2 labs we set up are currently functioning. The main issue is that with both of the servers the disks are full, so no-one can save any of their files, and no new user accounts can be created. Fixing this should be straightforward with help from the university ICT team.

EMRS System at Ayder
Ayder Referral Hospital, where the Health Sciences College is based has recently implemented an electronic medical records system, using the SmartCare system, which is also being used in Zambia. It has been implemented throughout the hospital, with over 100 medical staff having access to use the system. There is some more info regarding the SmartCare system on their website, although it’s a little unclear to me whether this system is open source or not, or how any new modules can be developed (maybe only the original developers can create new modules?). If anyone has more info on this, then please let me know and I can update this posting.

HEW Training
We visited the Nurse and HEW training college in Mekelle and met with the College Dean, and in Addis we met with Tedla from AMREF, who has been working with the HEAT programme for the last few years. Both these meetings have given us a lot more insight into how the HEAT upgrade programme for HEWs is now working, since it has recently changed from a blended/distance based course to centre-based. A couple of the HEWs who were working with us have now joined the college in Mekelle, where they’ll be for the next year for their HEAT training. So we’re interested to see if we can run a short talk to the rest of the classmates about the case management tools they were using.

In all the visit went very well, we’re really pleased with the progress being made and how much everyone seems to like the HEAT on mobile application.

Españoles en el Mundo….

Have now been in Spain for a little over a year, my Spanish is slowly improving (should probably attempt to write a blog post in Spanish at some point!). If you’d like to learn about Ethiopia in Spanish, this was on TV the other week:

Shows lots of the places I was working in and visited whilst I was there (Mekelle, Wukro, Axum, Gondar, Lalibela). A couple of years ago Españoles en el Mundo broadcast this programme:–angel/625760/ about Father Ángel, who has been living in Wukro for the last 20+ years, and who we often visit when we’re in Mekelle. One of our projects is based in Wukro.

Increasing use of elearning at Mekelle Uni

I was just having a look at the statistics for the Mekelle Uni Moodle and am very pleased to see how much the site has increased in usage over the last year. Great to see students making up a large proportion of the hits. Last year we were seeing more hits from teachers, probably due to their course development and issues with lab opening. The drop is hits during February and March this year is likely due to three factors: (a) one of the labs being closed following theft of some terminals, (b) end of semester exams and (c) subsequent inter-semester break. I hope the site usage continues to increase.

Lab developments

Although the elearning training went very well, we still have some issues with the lab expansion and opening. Health Sciences is still in the process of recruiting lab attendants to open the lab there, previously they’ve been relying on the goodwill of Tilahun (the ICT team member based at Ayder), but he’s now moved to the main (Arid campus), so opening is rather ad-hoc. The lab at Arid now has 3 lab attendants so should now be open 24×7, although the network connection (between the lab and the data centre) has been quite flaky recently, due to some of the intermediate switches. The other new elearning computer lab at Arid is still under development, as yet the networking and electrical installation isn’t completed, although they were working on it this week. The electrician was surprised that we need over 15kW in this lab to power the 90 refurbished PCs, but seems we will this amount of power given the ratings on back of the old PCs and the CRT monitors.

One of our successes was to improve the boot speed and responsiveness of the refurbished PCs when they boot from the thin client server. The improvement was as a result of some changes to the network switches (they were only operating at half duplex for the ports these machines are attached to), and also to update the protocol used for the display. We’re now using FreeNX, which is proving far quicker than X11. We also tested XRDP which was also very responsive. With X11 the responsiveness to mouse clicks or key presses was so slow as to make the machines almost unusable, now these machines actually appear faster than the SunRay terminals. Much of this is simply my experiences during testing, rather than scientific measurement, and we’ve not yet tested these terminals when the lab and network is under load. So I was very pleased we were able to get the lab in a position where the old PCs would be usable, even with a less than ideal network.

Certifying another 20 elearning teachers

Last night we presented the Certificate in Online Education to another 20 teachers from Technology Institute and Health Sciences. Over the past week we’ve been verifying that everyone has completed the assignments and other requirements. We’re still learning about the best way to deliver the course to get active participation especially when we’re not present in Mekelle. Before coming to back to Mekelle we were a little worried that few teachers had completed any of the assignments or their courses. But actually most had completed what was asked of them, just that we didn’t know – either they’d started to develop a different course to the one they’d first told us about, or they’d created the required activities, but not submitted the links to notify us.

Most of the teachers are now moving onto the advanced course which we started this week. We’re not starting a new basic course this semester, as we’d really like the elearning team to deliver this themselves with our support from a distance, rather than Jaime and I continually running the workshops.

Has been a fun couple of weeks in Mekelle, but hard work and much more to do, as ever. I have a few other blog articles to finish writing and get posted up, so hope to do this over the next few days. With such a short visit, I didn’t get the time to catchup with everyone I wanted to, but hopefully I’ll be back again in May/June time for a slightly longer visit.

More expensive beer and slower internet…

Last weekend I arrived back in Mekelle after our training week in Addis. Only a few differences to note since I’ve been back, the new road (I’ve been watching League of Gentlemen again) still isn’t finished, a couple of new restaurants have opened and a few have closed. The price capping that was introduced a couple of months ago has affected the availability of some goods quite a lot. For example in one restaurant, because bottled soft drinks are price capped, they now only sell canned soft drinks. St Georges and Dashen beers are capped, but Castell isn’t, so some places now only sell Castell as they can charge what they like for it.

The thin client computer labs are returning to being open. The lab for Technology Institute has been closed since the break in a few weeks ago and has only just this week been passed back to Technology from Security. Some new lab attendants have started this week, so the labs should be running again properly next week. We also hope to get a second lab open and running before the end of next week, but just need to keep our fingers crossed that the switches needed will arrive in the next few days.

The internet connection, both the fiber access at the uni and the CDMA, have been very slow. Generally they are on, but almost so slow as to be unusable. Many people seem to think the change in management of Ethiopia Telecom means staff are uncertain about their jobs so the network isn’t well maintained. An alternative explanation is that they’ve sold too many CDMA sim cards and increased the bandwidth they claim to deliver far above the actual capacity of the network. Either way, it’s disappointing that the connections are now worse than they were less than a year ago.

During my week in Addis I met several people form IT companies who are interested in providing thin client support services, so it’s interesting to see the types of projects they’ve been working on and that cheaper, more reliable computing infrastructure is now becoming more widespread. There is also talk of some thin client devices being assembled here in Ethiopia – actually the device I’ve seen would run either standalone or as a thin client. This would make the thin clients more mainstream, much cheaper and as they could be paid for in local currency, buyers would be supporting the local economy.

This week we continue our elearning training at Mekelle University, we have the final workshops for two training programme we started in October and hope to start a new advanced group. Hoping that everyone is as active and engaged as the participants were in Addis last week.

Rapid developments in Mekelle

We’re still in the process of planning out our training programme for our next visit to Ethiopia in a few weeks time. At only 3 weeks it’s going to be my shortest visit to Ethiopia, so sure it will be a very busy time, given what we’re hoping to get done in the time there. For a week in Addis, we’ll be starting our basic certification course for elearning teams from some of the other universities in Ethiopia, we’re just waiting to get confirmation of how many are going to attend. Then we’ll have 2 weeks in Mekelle, for the final face to face workshops for the certification we started in October plus starting a new cohort for the advanced training.

There’s still some way to go before Mekelle University is ready to start delivering the course by themselves. Although they’re keen on expanding the training to include other colleges, it’s not sustainable for Jaime and I to continue to deliver the training over and over.

Over the last couple of weeks we’ve had lots of good news from the Technology Institute. Florida, one of the lecturers from the Computer Science department, has taken over as head of ICT and elearning. They’ve managed to take on another team member for the elearning team, plus lab attendants are due to start work this week for maintaining the computer labs. They’re in the process of getting a new computer lab (of almost 70 refurbished PCs network booting from the OpenSolaris server) up and running, so will be great to see this up and running, although we have a few concerns as to whether the server will have the power/capacity to deliver sessions to this many extra terminals.

Health Sciences College have also been busy, installing network connected PCs and projectors in almost 20 lecture rooms.

With all these changes, I’m looking forward to getting back to Mekelle, if only for a very short time. At just less than 4 months, this is also the longest break I’ve had away from Mekelle since I started working there back in September 2008.