The European Union has launched the Direc (Digital Response Connecting Citizens) programme to support the education and health sectors and small businesses in adopting digital practices to limit the impact of crises. In the area of health, solutions have been found to improve the health of pregnant women and young children. A second project is giving women better access to IT tools, thereby reducing inequalities between men and women in the workplace.
In Senegal, in the poor rural region of Tambacounda, not all pregnant women have access to healthcare. Many villages are more than ten kilometres from the nearest health post, and travelling to the nearest health post is tiring and costly for households. These mothers rarely benefit from the four antenatal consultations they are offered, to the detriment of their health and that of their baby.
This is why the NGO Oxfam set up a system of “godmothers” in January 2023. These referents send text messages to women to alert them to their pregnancy status and to the vaccinations of their children under the age of three. 200 mentors have been provided with a telephone, a connection and a telephone package, all financed by the French Development Agency (AFD) and Enabel, the Belgian cooperation agency.
“In addition to the geographical distance and the cost of transport, pregnant women in rural areas are not yet used to attending antenatal clinics. The godmothers, who live in the villages themselves, are there to raise awareness and remind them of their appointments”, explains Malick Ndome, policy adviser at Oxfam.
Aïda Ngom is a midwife in the Kolda region. The health post where she works covers an area of more than 4,500 people. “I can’t do all the work on my own. I send information, appointments and lists of medicines to the godmothers by text message”, she explains. The result, confirms this midwife, is that more pregnant women are coming for their check-ups. “This allows us to take charge of them early in their pregnancy, particularly in the event of pathology. We are also taking action on vaccination and early HIV screening, to prevent mother-to-child transmission”.
Text messages to build trust.
In the Tambacounda region, Diara Oury Ba, project manager at the NGO La Lumière, notes the same thing. “Thanks to these neighbourhood referral workers, ten pregnant women have returned to see the midwife, even though we’d stopped seeing them”. The badienou gokh – as they are called in Wolof – go to the mothers’ homes to remind them of their appointments. If they don’t turn up, they ask them for an explanation”, adds Diara Oury Ba. Beyond the text message, a relationship of trust is established through this community-based approach. As confidants, counsellors and referrers, the godmothers listen to the problems and concerns of the mothers.
There is also another use for these telephone messages. “When pregnant women live too far from the health centres, the nurses and midwives travel to the villages. At such times, the badienou gokh phones all the mothers concerned. Prenatal consultations, vaccinations and nutritional reminders can then be carried out”, concludes Malick Ndome, from Oxfam.
Using digital tools to improve the health system.
The DIRECCT programme also provides significant support for the digitisation of health and hospital systems, particularly in Senegal and the countries of the Pacific Community.
This desire was born out of the coronavirus health crisis. “With Covid 19, we realised that many documents needed to be digitised, but also that carers could work from home. Digital technology facilitates access to healthcare for both professionals and patients. It improves the quality of their care. The fewer administrative burdens there are, the more time the medical profession can spend treating patients”, explains Woré Fall, an IT engineer and e-health expert at Enabel, the Belgian development agency, which is co-managing the programme with AFD.
In the Pacific, the programme is still in its early stages. “We are going to support the health system in its digital transformation, strengthen the surveillance of infectious diseases, and improve the performance of health services. We will also be helping Vanuatu to set up databases on people with disabilities”, says Amy Simpson, head of the surveillance, preparedness and response programme in the Department of Public Health, within the Pacific Community.
In Senegal, 554 healthcare workers and engineers were trained in basic digital skills and computer network management. The aim of the training was to improve the use of office automation tools and provide basic information on cyber security and how to deal with patients’ personal data when using digital technology.
Awa Ly is an administrative assistant at a health centre. For five days, she learned how to install a router system, check connections and resolve memory problems. “Before, we always had to wait for the technicians, who are few and far between. Now I’m trained, I can do things”, she says.
Feminising the IT sector
Ndèye Fatou Diome, a nurse, has been trained in digital tools, to enable high-quality digitisation of medical data. “I was already using Word, Powerpoint and Excel every day, but I didn’t know all the tricks of the trade. This has enabled me to perfect my skills. I manage the HIV, tuberculosis and leprosy programmes. All this work is 90% digital, because we work with databases. With what I’ve learnt, I’ll be able to refine the data better and pass on my knowledge to my team of midwives and nurses”.
The aim of this training in digital tools is also to reduce inequalities between men and women in the workplace. Aïta Diene, an IT engineer at the Senegalese Ministry of Health, received six days of training, preparing her to obtain Cisco certification in computer networks. The graduate of the Ecole Supérieure Polytechnique in Dakar added: “These training courses enable us as women to take more concrete professional steps. It gives us the resources and skills to better integrate into the IT sector, which is very male-dominated”.
Of the 521 health workers trained, 58.7% are women. A guarantee of empowerment for these female employees, who now have access to digital tools and their uses, in an IT sector that is still very male-dominated.