Supporting Youth and Improving Health Outcomes Using Tech in Tanzania

Whilst in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania in February, I came across some interesting organisations which are exploring ways in which to use technology to empower youth and improve health outcomes.

Tayoa are a well-established youth organisation.   They are running the VijanaTz Portal, which aims to provide graduates with support to help them find employment, access relevant information and support entrepreneurship.  The portal requires a low end smart phone for full functionality, but some services can be accessed via SMS.

It includes a range of components:

  • Vijana Education which showcases educational opportunities and scholarships available, provides information on accessing loans, training materials, online books and University results
  • Vijana Employment which includes a job search and a platform for graduates to upload CVs
  • Vijana Pesa for cash transfers, advice on how to make money with a small investment and a platform where young people can upload ideas and look for small investors
  • Vijana Market where youth can market their projects
  • Vijana Research which provides information on agriculture, fish farming and other products
  • Vijana Governance which provides information on rules and regulations e.g. licencing, permits needed and tax.  People can also report problems and corruption and pose questions to the Tayoa team.

It would be fantastic to see this platform becoming a one stop shop providing locally driven content to youth seeking employment or hoping to generate an income across Tanzania.

Impressively, they have been granted free mobile services from a mobile operator.  They use this to run a national health line (toll free) which receives approximately 1000 calls per day and a free SMS service (Afya) which you can subscribe to and receive information on HIV prevention, testing, medication reminders and general health advice in Swahili or English.

They have exciting plans to open an ICT incubator soon.  They hope to provide young people with business mentorship, tech skill training and advice on how to apply their skills to business e.g. book keeping, advertising and the importance of having a web presence.  They also hope to train youth in building websites, adapting SMS platforms, updating websites and other tech skills which they can charge companies for.

It was fantastic to visit an organisation which is empowering youth with skills and tools which can help them generate an income and access relevant information, thus empowering them to improve their own lives and the lives of their communities.

During my trip, I was also able to visit the Dar Es Salaam branch of FHI360, an NGO operating 35 countries which focuses on sexual and reproductive health.

They are currently running 2 mHealth Projects:

  • M4RH is being run in association with Text2Change.  Users can access information about different family planning methods (which has been approved by WHO and the Ministry) in Swahili.  They also signpost people to PSI, Marie Stopes and public clinics at Ward level.  They aim to scale nationally and add some new components, including a service which helps support people experiencing side effects from contraceptive pills or injections, medication reminders and a rhythm method calendar.
  • Mobile Job Aid is a decision making tool which can be used by Community Health Workers (CHWs) at the point of care to make basic treatment decisions.  Currently, CHWs collect data by paper and have a paper based decision making tool.  This project digitises the process and requires GPRS phones, which are provided by the project.

I also met with Jim Barrington of SMS4Life, a not for profit project being rolled out under Roll Back Malaria, an organisation set up by WHO.  They have devised a cost effective method of ensuring that malaria drugs are available in health centres.  This project was developed in response to drug stock outs of malaria drugs resulting in a significant amount of avoidable deaths.

A member of staff in each clinic registers to the system and receives a weekly request to count stocks.  Staff are incentivised with 1000Tsh (about 30p) phone credit if they respond by 5pm on Friday.  The data is inputted into a web based system, where the District Medical Officers (DMOs) can see data from all 47 health facilities.  The DMOs also receive an email updating them on drug stock outs.   They are then able to travel to the relevant clinics to stock medicines.  Amazingly, since the start of a pilot in Lindi, not a single clinic has had a stock out of malaria drugs.

The system is being adapted to track other drug and blood stock outs and is being scaled across other countries in Africa.  At the stage of scale up, the Ministry of Health takes ownership of the project.  SMS4Life is currently piloting in Ghana and Kenya and they are exploring opportunities in the DRC, Cameroon, Uganda and Mozambique.

It will be interesting to see how these two health projects manage to achieve scale using different sustainability models and to monitor they impact they have on mortality rates and other health outcomes.