Entrepreneur-Run Community “Pasha Centers” Provide Rural Kenyans with Internet Access to Healthcare
When the new SEACOM submarine fiberoptic cable reached Mombasa, Kenya (from Mumbai, India via Durban) in July and began to deliver reliable, less expensive Internet access to East Africa, improved access to healthcare information might not have been the first thing on everyone’s mind. But that 1.28 Terabytes-per-second cable is providing rural Kenyans with healthcare information – and much more.
The new connectivity has jump-started a series of six new community centers across the country. And through these “pilot pasha centers” (pasha means “to inform” in Swahili), rural Kenyans are beginning to take advantage of many new opportunities – including access to important healthcare information as well as education, new markets and business opportunities, financial and government services, and more from around Kenya and the world – all at a much more affordable price.
I recently interviewed Dr. Peter Drury, lead for healthcare in emerging markets for Cisco’s Internet Business Solutions Group, about health information systems in developing nations. Dr. Drury is particularly interested in the opportunities the pasha centers offer from a public health perspective.
“We want to get a starter pack of health content deployed in these connected community centers in a way that is both easily accessible and relevant to the local people,” he told me. “Better still, we hope to find ways in which they can, locally and/or in collaboration with other people, begin to develop locally applicable health content to supplement whatever they will get from external sources.”
The collaborators behind the pilot pasha centers (the Kenya ICT Board and Cisco Internet Business Solutions Group, Cisco’s global strategic consulting arm) believe that the ICT platform and an entrepreneurial model will enable resource-poor communities to enjoy affordable access to a very wide range of information, due to economies of scale and the aggregation of demand reducing the unit price.
By Jenny Carless, News@Cisco Feature Writer
To help ensure the program’s long-term sustainability, the program is taking a bottom-up approach, with the centers being run by local entrepreneurs.
In the town of Kangundo (pop. 10,000), for example, local businesswoman Connie Kisuke has transformed her Blossom World cybercafé into Kenya’s first pilot pasha center. Her center opened in August, and six others have launched in communities around Kenya since then. The program aims to establish 3,500 centers across Kenya over the next three years.
I’ve traveled in East Africa several times in recent years. When I think of the local businesspeople who will be setting up these centers, it brings to mind the many entrepreneurs at almost every major intersection, in Nairobi and other cities, with small stands and a mobile phone, which they “rent” to passers-by, one call at a time.
These stands have become less common as mobile phone ownership has grown dramatically, but it seems to me that it’s this same entrepreneurial sprit that is going to drive the success of the pasha centers.
ICT Training for Future Success
The latest news is that the entrepreneurs in the existing pasha centers are undergoing intensive training on Cisco WebEx.
Back in Kangundo, Connie Kisuke has seen a 60 percent increase in customers since July. And it turns out that most are using the service to access health information on malaria, tuberculosis and HIV prevention.