Africare’s Edge: Impact-Enhancing Technology

September 9, 2013

Technology can transform lives in Africa, and Africans can revolutionize technology. Africare is doubling-down on the impact-enhancing potential of technology by partnering with innovators in Africa and around the world. We are incorporating their products and services into our projects to leverage up our four decades of success in improving lives across Africa.

Here are just a few examples.

On July 31st, Africare was one of four winners of the prestigious Saving Lives at Birth, Transition to Scale grant. Building on the African Medical and Research Foundation (AMREF)'s successful two-year pilot to reduce maternal mortality in remote regions of Senegal, Africare will scale up the adoption of a mobile phone health platform and telemedicine laptops to five regions of the country, expanding our reach in exposing Senegalese communities to life-saving health care practices.

Dimagi’s mobile platform, CommCare, allows maternal care groups and pregnant women to schedule and stay abreast of appointments, medications and follow-ups. It also gives community health workers instant access to health records and information relevant to further treatment and referrals, all using a standard cell phone. AMREF’s telemedicine suitcases contain laptops that link rural community health workers to the University Hospital Center in Dakar, Senegal’s capital, a connection that enables trained health staff in otherwise isolated regions to use TV and ultrasound to monitor pregnant women and deliver obstetric services, even emergency care. Africare’s project will use these innovations to bring prenatal care services closer to communities, targeting more than 300,000 women.

                                                                                      Image: Courtesy of Dimagi

Africare is also partnering with Coca-Cola and DEKA Research and Development to purify South Africa’s water. DEKA’s “Slingshot” can transform what is practically sewage into clean drinking water using only as much energy as a coffee maker. We have already installed Slingshots in six Africare-supported health facilities in South Africa, augmenting our work by preventing infections and providing potable water in operating theaters, OB/GYN clinics and our HIV & AIDS nutrition projects. Requiring almost no pre-existing infrastructure, Slingshots could help provide access to clean water across Africa.

A Slingshot installed in an Africare-supported South African health facility. Photo: Africare/South Africa

In agriculture, Africare and our Brazilian partner, AGN Bioenergy, are connecting smallholder farmers to markets, and markets to farmers. AGN Bioenergy’s computer algorithm will analyze data on weather, soil, production and prices; combine this with on-the-ground input from Africare’s vast network of extension workers; help farmers make better crop choices; and enable real-time monitoring of field trials remotely via mobile phones. This program will essentially allow a farmer to send an SMS saying, “I live here. What should I grow?” and get a reply, “Grow this.” Agribusinesses could also use this software to identify local farmers who produce the commodities they need, bolstering business for smallholders and larger businesses alike.


Images: Courtesy of AGN Bioenergy

Africare is also working with African scientists and engineers who are devising ways to solve the problems they encounter in their communities. Among the achievements of these locally-appropriate technologies are improved access to clean water and superior water and soil conservation. For example, Africare supported Ghanaian engineers to take to market a locally developed water filtration system that effectively and inexpensively removes iron and other impurities.

Lastly, technology is not only about new devices. It’s also about innovative approaches that make ordinary things more efficient. In southern Zambia in 2010, Africare introduced farmers to the mobile kraal system, which integrates livestock into crop farming, using the animals as living tilling and fertilizing machines. Farmers rotate where they enclose their livestock, concentrating them on a different portion of their field each night so the animals ‘till’ the soil with their hooves and fertilize the soil with urine and dung. Additionally, the farmers intercrop specific types of produce on their land to maintain moisture levels and improve nutrient uptake among their crops. This technology produces high nutrient soils, increased yields and improved household food security – with no computer processing required.

Maize crop field not using mobile kraal.
Description: FDAYS 011.JPG
Photos: Africare/Zambia

Maize crop field after fertilization with mobile kraal.Description: FDAYS 009.JPG

Game-changing technologies exist, many of them developed by Africans as solutions to African problems. Africare seeks them out to bring quantum leaps to developmental effectiveness – improved efficiency, wider reach, greater impact. For Africare, integrating innovations into projects means more lives more powerfully improved. It’s a no-brainer.