Posted by Shefali Oza
The Singapore Internet Research Centre (SIRCA) has generously awarded a two-year $17,800 grant to Nyaya Health for research on information and communications technology for development (ICTD). The grant, commencing in January 2009, will be used to develop, implement, and evaluate a program to investigate the application of telecommunications technology to healthcare outreach efforts in the region.
Disparities in access to quality healthcare services are among the greatest humanitarian injustices present in today’s world. Exemplifying this problem is the district in which we work. Achham has some of the highest maternal and child mortality rates in South Asia. The complex problems of this district are similar to those faced by poor, rural communities throughout the world. Achham thus provides an ideal testing ground for developing programs to provide appropriate technologies for healthcare delivery.
Since our inception, we have trained several of our staff members to utilize the technology and communication devices available at our clinic, including patient databases and the internet. Through this model, we are able to efficiently manage patients and data, rapidly evaluate our programs, and retain an easily accessible institutional memory in order to improve our work. Through our SIRCA-funded research, we will be able to expand our technological reach to the more distant communities in our catchment area by providing our community health workers (CHWs) with communication technologies. Community health workers are the critical front-line providers in the remote villages. Connecting them to the central clinic is vital to maximizing their effectiveness. This proposed health worker program is an important complement to our current model of using technology in the clinical setting.
The key objectives of our proposed research study are to:
- Develop a system capable of establishing and sustaining a) communication systems between CHWs and other health professionals, b) data collection and management tools for surveillance, c) communication systems linking CHWs to timely medical information, and d) an integrated, sustainable training system.
- Create a sustainable, scalable healthcare delivery system capable of addressing the most critical and immediate medical needs in Achham. Within current CHW models, CHWs typically work alone, often travel great distances, and rely completely on their own knowledge and the most basic of resources which they carry with them. In operating under these rudimentary conditions, only a small fraction of the potential for CHWs to impact their communities is realized. This proposal will equip CHWs with innovative technologies tailored for local communities.
- Enable CHWs to input longitudinal data on their patients and communicate with the central clinic staff. This will improve the effectiveness of home-based care for chronic diseases such as tuberculosis, HIV, diabetes, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Following an initial assessment of available services and population health status, we will begin a pilot study, which is divided into the phases of technology installation, CHW training, program implementation, and scale-up. We believe that the knowledge gained from this research will provide an essential link between information technology and provision of healthcare, and a model that can be applied in rural settings worldwide.