Demonstrating Demand for Preventive Health Services in Rural Kenya

Jeffry Lackey, Stephen Suffian, Rachel Dzombak, and Khanjan Mehta

Journal of Humanitarian Engineering

Suffian, S., Lackey, J., Dzombak, R., Mehta, K. Journal of Humanitarian Engineering, Vol. 3, No. 1., pp. 24 – 35,“ Demonstrating Demand for Preventive Health Services in Rural Kenya,”  2015


Developing countries like Kenya suffer from a severe lack of healthcare professionals. Access to primary care is further limited when large distances must be travelled for basic medical care, and often times the decision to seek professional help is made too late. Preventive health services can save lives by diagnosing serious medical conditions early and subsequently reducing the likelihood of life-threatening diseases. The rapid increase in the global incidence of chronic diseases like diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease makes preventive health services particularly important. Trained community health workers (CHWs) operated the Mashavu telemedicine system in Nyeri County of Kenya over the course of five months. The Mashavu system comprised of a netbook computer, a web camera, and other basic supplies. CHWs provided patients with two alternative services: (1) body measurements including blood pressure, weight, and body mass index (BMI) or (2) a full consultation that supplemented the measurements with health indicators and a brief survey. A lightweight website was developed to allow CHWs to send this information to a nearby nurse. This website was accessed by leveraging the 3G cell networks that are ubiquitous in Kenya. During the five-month pilot, 777 patients paid for these services. Nearly one-third of patients used the service as an opportunity for a routine health check. The median age among patients was 40 years and 35% of all patients were between the ages of 21-35. The pilot described in this paper demonstrated to CHWs that community members value health information and are willing to pay a small fee for it. This pilot suggests that as developing countries struggle to address the double burden of chronic and infectious disease, fee-for-service preventive health services can serve as an innovative means to achieve economic development and improved community health.

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