Digital health as a lifesaver
A digital tool that guides health workers in Burkina Faso through consultations of children – that’s what Terre des hommes (Tdh) took up as a challenge in 2010. After the creation of IeDA, the search for innovative solutions goes on: thanks to artificial intelligence, the tool can now predict epidemics. During the Covid-19 pandemic, an additional function helps to separate patients with symptoms from others.
Burkina Faso, 2009: 1 child in 5 dies under the age of five. In remote areas, few qualified health staff are available, and consultations are done on paper. Clinical protocols to diagnose children are not properly followed and a poorly treated cough, fever or diarrhoea can lead to death.
Tdh launched an easy but revolutionary idea: what if, instead of piling up paperwork on consultations, the IMCI* protocol for childhood illness identification and treatment was digitised? IeDA was born. We provided health centres with the digital tablet to accompany health workers during consultations of children. The tool also trains them on the identification of illnesses and the suitable prescription of treatment.
Why is digital health helpful?
IeDA includes a questionnaire in which each step of the IMCI protocol needs to be followed – the quality of the diagnosis is therefore improved. Dayassé Martin, our health programme officer for IeDA in the districts of Ouahigouya and Thiou, says: “The IMCI approach was not really respected when the consultations were done on paper. The protocol was followed in less than 5% of the cases. But now, with IeDA, this rate has risen to more than 85%, proof that they have taken ownership of the tool.”
Initially installed in a few clinics, IeDA has exponentially expanded. It is now used in 1300 clinics, more than 70 per cent of Burkina Faso’s health centres, including the most remote ones. More than 3.5 million children have been treated so far with the support of IeDA. Balguissa, the mother of a young child who lives seven kilometres away, is visiting the health centres despite the long walk. “Before, the doctor used paper during the consultation, but now he uses the machine. This new method is faster,” she explains. “I come to this centre because the quality of the care is good, the treatments are effective, and patients are satisfied.”
IeDA during the Covid-19 pandemic
To adapt IeDA to the Covid-19 situation, we created a version with an additional questionnaire to identify and isolate patients with symptoms to prevent the spread of the infection. Balguissa came to the health centre this morning because her child suffered from diarrhoea. When she was received, the tool detected no Covid-19 symptoms. She could therefore enter the health centre for the consultation and treatment of her child. “I appreciate the measures taken during the Covid-19 situation,” she says. “I was asked to come back for a follow-up. This made me feel at peace.”
Digital health opens a lot of new opportunities. IeDA’s implementation for childhood illnesses was a success thanks to the close collaboration with the Ministry of Health to whom we will pass on the project. We have additionally integrated functions to identify and treat malnutrition, pneumonia and to do maternity care. IeDA was also geographically expanded to other countries in West Africa and Asia. Artificial intelligence helps predict epidemics and the data advises policy makers on health policies and informs on the stock of medicaments. Tdh will, thanks to digital health, continue to revolutionise the care of children and their mothers throughout the world.
*Integrated management of childhood illnesses by WHO and UNICEF
A look into the past: this is the 9th article of 10 about the history of Terre des hommes on our 60th anniversary.