Mobile Healthcare for Africa Awards

External Research Health and Wellbeing Awards

Microsoft Research supports university academics conducting research that demonstrates potential and advances the state-of-the-art of mobile technologies that are relevant to challenges in delivering healthcare in rural or at-risk African communities. The research addresses:

  • Education – Mobile technologies as delivery tools for health education and training targeted towards healthcare providers and/or patients.
  • Remote data collection and surveillance – Potential of mobile technologies to transform the way in which clinical, epidemiological, and surveillance research is conducted. This includes, but is not limited to, the ability to capture data in rural areas, the analysis disease transmission depending on environmental characteristics, the development of early detection systems to mitigate disease outbreak, and so forth.
  • Point-of-care diagnostics and remote patient monitoring – Low-cost mobile technologies can be used to reach underserved populations remotely or at the “point of care.” These could enable delivery of timely and appropriate treatment to patients, help control the emergence of drug resistant pathogens, enable monitoring of individual patients, and so forth.

Mobile Healthcare for Africa Award Recipients

SurgiLink: Surgical Guidance via Mobile Phones
Dr. Ahmed Samir Fahmy, Center for Informatics Science (CIS), Nile University, Egypt
Dr. Mohamed A. ElHelw, Ubiquitous Computing Group, Nile University, Egypt

The poor accessibility to high-quality surgical services is a major problem in Africa leading to elevated rates of morbidity and mortality. A number of approaches have been piloted to overcome such shortage in skilled human resources including the utilization of non-physician clinicians to perform surgical procedures, known as task shifting. This is a promising approach that involves the delegation of certain medical responsibilities from highly-skilled to non-specialized healthcare workers. In fact, surgical task shifting is already happening in many countries, Due to its potential, task shifting is being supported by a number of international organizations such as Medecins Sans Frontieres, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Serving in Mission (SIM) International, and the Global Health Access Program.

The proposed system will provide a simplified form of telesurgery, also known as remote surgery. Telesurgery is based on combining robotics and videoconferencing to enable surgeons to carry out operations on patients who do not physically exist at the same location. SurgiLink will enable skilled surgeons to project their expertise to distant locations and interactively observe or direct non-specialized medical staff to perform complex procedures at improvised or makeshift operation theatres.

CellChek: A Cost-Effective Cell Phone-Based Patient Monitoring and Advising System
Tamer ElBatt, Wireless Intelligent Networks Center, Nile University
Moustafa Youssef, Wireless Intelligent Networks Center, Nile University

Despite the remarkable progress achieved in several arenas, fully leveraging ubiquitous mobile communications for healthcare services in under-served communities in Egypt, and Africa in general, remains a major challenge. The overarching goal of this cross-disciplinary research project is to develop a cost-effective mobile phone-based sensor network system to support remote patient monitoring and advising in Egypt and could have direct applicability to other African countries. First, we introduce a cost-effective mobile phone-based sensor network for remote patient monitoring (uplink) and medical advice (downlink) tailored to address the challenges and exploit the unique features of 3G systems in Egypt. Second, CellChek accommodates multi-modal sensors, whether mobile phone built-in or on-body sensors in a seamless manner, in an attempt to maximize knowledge extraction as well as fusion accuracy. Third, we present a cost-effective data dissemination service that leverages proximity and ubiquity of mobile phones to minimize the cost of communication via sending notifications to a limited number of users and utilizing short-range free communication, such as Bluetooth, to disseminate information to nearby users.

Mobile Microscopy for Automated Malaria Diagnosis in Field Conditions
John A. Quinn Department of Computer Science, Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda
Ian Munabi School of Biomedical Sciences, College of Health Sciences, Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda
Peter Wakholi Department of Innovation and Software Development, Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda

The most reliable test for malaria is microscopic examination of blood films for presence of the parasite. The problem with this is that it requires equipment and an expert on-site to use it. Some researchers have recently indicated the promise of combining microscopy with mobile phones, in order to mitigate the requirement for an expert to be physically present, and others have investigated the use of computer vision techniques for automatic classification, so that a human expert need not be available at all. However, all of this work has been undertaken in ideal laboratory conditions. We propose to develop these ideas and to trial an automated diagnosis system in the field, intended for use by non-experts. In doing so, we aim to shed light on the following questions: can digital microscopy with mobile devices be both cost-effective and practical in field use of SMS services to improve TB treatment completion in integrated tuberculosis and HIV care in resource-limited conditions, and what are the limits of classification techniques applied to variable quality microscopic blood film images in malaria diagnosis?

Lowering Maternal Mortality Rates in Sierra Leone
Gary Marsden, University of Cape Town, South Africa
Katie Christie, Mercy Ships Maternity Hospital, Freetown, Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone has the highest incidence of maternal mortality in the world (one out of six die from childbirth). There are few midwives and many woman are attended to by “traditional” birth attendants who have no formal qualifications and limited training. Mothers are also poorly informed and lack knowledge that could greatly increase the successful outcome of their pregnancy. The aim of this work is to reduce maternal mortality rates by empowering qualified midwives from developed countries to create and distribute training material (via cellular handsets) for untrained birth attendants in Sierra Leone.

Use of SMS Services to Improve TB Treatment Completion in Integrated Tuberculosis and HIV Care in Resource-Limited Settings
Dr. Yukari Manabe IDI at Makerere University in Kampala Uganda

Incomplete treatment of TB poses a serious risk for the individual as well as the community due to treatment failure and relapse, prolonged infectiousness and development of drug resistance which requires prolonged and expensive therapy that is less likely to be successful. An SMS intervention to encourage adherence to and awareness of integrated TB-HIV care could have enormous public health impact through improved TB control in high-burden countries. With this study, we expect to gain insight into the implementation and human resource requirements of the use of mobile communication technologies for this purpose, as well as into critical factors for failure and success of such a strategy. The results will be generalizable to the sub-Saharan African population and provide a possible technological strategy to improve patient compliance and, thereby, decrease the development of drug resistance and subsequently mortality. By improving awareness of HIV and TB related issues, we hope to improve treatment completion, adherence, and clinic retention, as well as dissemination of the information to peers leading to enhanced testing of and seeking of medical treatment for co-infected patients.