This post was written by Dr. Stanley Ndwiga, Outreach/Project Doctor at Gertrude’s Children’s Hospital in Nairobi, Kenya. It was originally published on the Huffington Post.
Ten years ago, an AIDS epidemic was ravaging Kenya and other countries in sub-Saharan Africa. In one year alone, as many as 40,000 Kenyan infants were born HIV-positive, and only 30 percent of them could expect to see to their 5th birthday. Millions of Kenyan adults succumbed to AIDS, orphaning many millions more.
Today, thanks to better drugs, community outreach, and education, fewer Kenyans are acquiring HIV, and the number of those who have AIDS has fallen to 1.2 million, or 1 in 20 Kenyan adults. It is still a significant number, and we have a lot of work yet to do.
At Gertrude’s Children’s Hospital in Nairobi, clinicians have been given a big boost in that effort through web conferencing technology.
Last year, Cisco donated WebEx web conferencing technology to Gertrude’s Children’s Hospital. Gertrude’s Children’s has a main campus and nine satellite clinics. The satellite clinics are located in densely populated areas in and around Nairobi, about 50 kilometers from Gertrude’s main campus. These satellite clinics were established a few years back as part of a community outreach initiative. The aim is to increase access to pediatric preventative and primary health care services for underserved populations and to increase training of health care providers.
With web conferencing technology, our clinicians and health care workers at the satellite clinics can meet and confer with their colleagues at the main campus — over the Internet, but face to face.
As health care providers, we are always searching for ways to treat our patients more promptly and efficiently, especially in the care of HIV/AIDS, which is a complicated and complex disease to manage. This kind of technology can help us do just that. Many of our patients are poor, have lost a spouse to the disease, and are supporting several children. They live far from the main hospital, and travel is expensive and logistically challenging. Through web technology and a network of health care workers who have received the latest in HIV care training, Gertrude’s can provide care for sick children near their homes.
“Kenya has a population of more than 43 million, half of whom live in poverty, and it is a struggle to provide access to basic health care services to all citizens, especially in those remote areas and densely populated slums,” explained Hital Muraj, Cisco’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Manager for East and Central Southern Africa, who spearheaded the donation.
“The community health facilities are understaffed and underequipped. In addition to this, there is a countrywide shortage of health professionals to deliver essential health interventions, which means high mortality rates. As a result, rural health facilities suffer acute shortage of trained professionals. Cisco’s WebEx collaboration platform can help address these challenges — both clinical and operational — and without having to travel to the Githogoro clinic, the doctors at Gertrude’s can provide timely care to the patients.”
Cisco’s donation came at a particularly fortuitous time: Gertrude’s had just embarked on an E-Health Initiative with Nanyuki District Hospital, 200 kilometers away, to help the organization’s 30 health care workers provide more prompt, efficient care for over 7400 patients.
Gertrude’s Comprehensive Care Clinic now conducts training sessions with their counterparts at Nanyuki District Hospital over WebEx, discussing clinical and psychosocial issues, nutrition, and counseling.
Web conferencing has enabled the hospitals to greatly increase training opportunities, going from once-a-month training sessions to twice-a-week sessions. This represents a 50 percent increase in training opportunities and has cut travel and accommodation costs by another 50 percent.
The technology also helps doctors confer on difficult cases.
Dr. Thomas Ngwiri, chief clinician and pediatrician at Gertrude’s, said:
“In the past, primary doctors would need to consult on occasion with his or her peers or seniors on a particular course of treatment, but schedule conflicts or distance disparities would make this difficult to accomplish in a timely way. I have been able to consult and discuss several difficult HIV cases with clinicians from Githogoro and Nanyuki Districts hospital’s HIV clinic, which is more than 260 kilometers from our facility, with ease and without necessarily traveling that far. This saves time, money and ensures timely decision-making on patients.”
The technology has also enhanced peer-to-peer consultations because it is available online, on desktop or mobile platforms. This enables clinicians to log in from any location and discuss cases or offer advice, ensuring speedy delivery of care to the patient.
“Cisco’s WebEx web conferencing system has greatly contributed to efficiency and cost savings,” said Allan Tollo, head of ICT at Gertrude’s. “Within the hospital, administrative units can now have effective meetings, which has greatly improved timely dissemination of information and enhanced operational efficiency.”
Cisco’s Miraj summed it up well: “I believe this tool will help a great deal in transforming lives of many Kenyans who are unable to access timely care.”
Gertrude’s was founded in 1947 to become a place of hope for sick children. Now, with the combined power of human and technology networks, more young patients are being seen by better-trained health care workers, ensuring its mission will continue far into the future.