How Wi-Fi Access can Improve Healthcare in Uganda

By Christopher Olayinka Meraiyebu, Behavior Change Specialist & Fellow, PACE, and Maria Dieter, Communications Assistant, PSI

According to the UN, 57% of the world’s population remains offline. In an effort to boost Wi-Fi access in the city of Kampala, Uganda, Google began laying down thousands of kilometers of fiber cables in 2013 as a pilot project. Having recently gone live, Google expects to create 120 Wi-Fi hotspots across the country’s capital. With widening Internet access, those living in Kampala can have better access to information and associated communication tools.

But the Internet can also facilitate access to good health. If mobile Internet access is available, health care providers and Kampalans in general can download apps to find healthcare more easily. PACE, PSI’s network member in Uganda, and other organizations are currently working on the following apps for healthcare access in Uganda:

  • Colptool- a mobile app for cervical cancer diagnosis. When it launches later this year, it will be available for use with iOS compatible smartphones. Healthcare providers will be able to take photos of the cervix while using color filters on the phone to facilitate identification of lesions.
  • Facility Locator- a mobile app developed and promoted by the Uganda Health Marketing Group (UHMG). To locate health services, consumers send keywords, such as HIV or FP (Family Planning), by text message to a toll free short code. Using GPS to establish the location of the sender, the system texts back a message giving the name and location of the nearest UHMG health facility offering that service.
  • Matibabu a mobile app to detect malaria, created by four students at Kampala’s Makerere University. It aims to make the process of detecting malaria less painful and time consuming by using a red LED light to detect red blood cells, which determine malaria status.
  • Winsenga an app that provides an ultra-sound alternative. Midwives can use this to monitor the growth of a baby during pregnancy, as well as during labor. It’s less expensive than actually buying an ultra-sound machine. It is intuitive, suggesting solutions and making referrals, ultimately increasing the chances of a healthy pregnancy and a safe delivery, thereby reducing maternal mortality.
  • Her Health A mobile app that enables a woman to detect bacterial vaginosis (BV) developed by a group of women from the Information Computer Technology department at Makerere University, calling themselves Team Code Gurus.

Despite easier Internet access in Kampala, rural Ugandans still do not enjoy the same kind of access. Internet penetration outside of Kampala still stands at 18%, according to Freedom House. These apps, which were designed to make affordable healthcare and accurate diagnoses available to rural Ugandans, are still not easily accessible. The 35.5 million Ugandans living outside of Kampala are therefore still underserved.

The major barriers to the effective use of these apps include:

  1. Lack of knowledge on the existence of mobile apps for improved healthcare delivery.
  2. Lack of knowledge on how the applications can be effectively used.
  3. Limited funds or lack of funding for promotion and marketing and proper optimization of the app.
  4. Limited internet penetration, high internet costs and erratic electricity supply.

Affordable internet would surely have a positive impact on PACE’s work in Uganda, and healthcare in the developing world as a whole. To fix these, fiber optic cables should be extended to other parts of Uganda. Intensive promotion and marketing of these apps would also help to get more users of these time-, and potentially life-saving fixes in developing markets.

Photo Credit: Elmvh // GFDL via Wikimedia Commons