In November last year, M-Pesa Foundation partnered with Gertrude’s Children’s Hospital to launch Daktari Smart – a telemedicine platform that allows doctors from far off county hospitals to work together remotely with specialist doctors from Gertrude’s Children’s Hospital in Nairobi. With the Kenyan doctor to patient ratio currently standing at one doctor per 6,355 people, this is a crucial and timely initiative that will play a huge role in improved healthcare as the country works towards Universal Health Care.
Daktari Smart which reduces, and sometimes eliminates barriers to healthcare has now been rolled out in Lamu, Samburu, Homabay and Baringo. Unlike conventional video conferencing, Daktari Smart allows a healthcare worker at a local partner health facility to place electronic medical devices such as a stethoscope or vital signs monitor on the patient. The specialist at Gertrude’s Children’s Hospital is then able to see the patient and hear their vitals in real time without interpretation from the health worker at the local facility.
Last week, my colleagues and I visited Baringo County and had a firsthand experience of how the program works. We also got to hear what the patients, doctors, and county officials have to say about the service.
At Chemolingot Subcounty Hospital where the Baringo pilot is running, we spoke to Dr. Elizabeth Chebet who is the Medical Superintendent at the center. Dr. Chebet says that from the short time she has used it, she can tell that telemedicine has the potential to change the referral system and patient care completely. So far, the health center has been able to handle 40 cases through the program and out of these, she has only had to refer 6 for more complex care like neurology and MRI scans.
Before Dakrari Smart, Dr. Chebet would have had to refer all the 40 patients to hospitals in Kabarnet, Nakuru or Eldoret. In an area where residents are so economically challenged, she sends her patients to far off towns with a heavy heart knowing that they do not have money for transport and consultation. Many have had to wait for market days which fall on Mondays, so they can sell livestock and make money to go to hospital. Her heart breaks because she knows that medical cases are not meant wait.
For her as a doctor, telemedicine has opened doors she had never thought of. She is elated to be able to sort her people within the health center and cannot thank M-Pesa Foundation enough. She’s happy that word is spreading fast and that despite initial skepticism, locals and medical personnel have now fully embraced the new technology and are taking advantage of it. In a county like Baringo where there is only one specialist pediatrician, telemedicine is closing the gap by bringing services down to the people at no extra cost.
The working of telemedicine from a patient’s eye was brought to life by Jackline Kawertui, whose 4-year-old daughter Neema Chemosop is a recent beneficiary. Since she was 2, Neema has had recurrent fevers and rashes that saw her mother take her to hospital after hospital with no solution for 2 years. Jackline’s next step was to take her daughter to Nakuru for specialized care, but she came to Chemolingot just in time and Dr. Chebet organized a teleconsultation with Gertrude’s Hospital. That was 2 months ago. The little girl has since been through new tests and new medications courtesy of Gertrude’s and she has not been to hospital since.
Jackline, a teacher at Kotonon Primary School, urges her community to embrace telemedicine fully and make Chemolingot their center of choice since it is the only one offering the service so far in Baringo.
As for the County Government of Baringo, the priority in matters health is to offer residents quality, affordable and timely healthcare. This, according to Dr. Patrick Boruett has been aided to a big extent by the Daktari Smart which has checked all the boxes. Dr. Boruett is the Director for preventive and promotive health in Baringo County.
With more referrals being done within the county, less patients are having to go to Kabarnet for example which is 130km away or Eldoret which is an additional 100km away. In the end, these are the steps that will eventually bring healthcare to everyone’s reach and the county is grateful to M-Pesa Foundation and Gertrude’s Children’s Hospital.
The county health department had to do a lot of sensitization as part of the introduction of Daktari Smart since telemedicine was a new concept. This was more so among healthcare workers and community health volunteers since they are the people tasked with taking word further out into the communities. Dr. Boruett is happy with the progress so far and he sees a scenario where telemedicine will be the norm. He sees a future where the concept will spread countrywide, and where as a country we should be able to achieve Universal Health Care through this, among other initiatives. It takes input from many players, and he is grateful to M-Pesa foundation for being part of the efforts.