Diabetes is a growing global issue, affecting some 422 million people worldwide in 2014. Senegal is no different: over four per cent of the adult population is diabetic, but this could be as high as 10 per cent in some areas and there are still many undiagnosed cases, especially in remote and rural areas.
Managed properly, patients can live a full and healthy life. However, obtaining the right medical care information is not always easy to obtain in areas where medical services are hard to reach or underserved.
However, with its increasing global reach and availability, information and communication technology (ICT) can provide direct, low-cost, engaging and innovative solutions at one’s fingertips anytime, anywhere to access health care for those suffering from this lifelong disease.
Supporting Senegal’s Healthcare System
Eighty-three per cent of Senegal’s population has a mobile telephone. Tapping into this resource, the Association Sénégalaise de Soutien Aux Diabétiques (ASSAD) teamed up with ITU and WHO to launch the ‘Be He@lthy, Be Mobile’ m-Diabetes programme in Senegal in 2014 along with the m-Ramadan pilot to raise awareness about how to fast safely during the holy month.
Ramadan, a holy celebration in the Muslim faith, is a risky period for diabetics: periods of daily fasting beginning at sunrise are usually followed by high sugar intake when consumption resumes after sunset. Because of this dietary irregularity, health authorities witness a peak in emergency hospitalization of people with uncontrolled diabetes. People living with diabetes or health-care professionals interested in receiving recommendations about diabetes and fasting, could apply to receive free SMS messages before, during and after Ramadan. Typical messages included: ‘drink one litre of water every morning before you begin fasting’, ‘take care not to overheat and watch out for foods high in sugar, such as dates’, and ‘ask your doctor to adapt the dose and timing of your diabetes medication before you fast’.
A total of 80,000 free SMS messages were distributed to more than 2,000 users across the country in 2014, with 99 per cent of those who participated in the pilot saying that they would like to receive the messages again. For me, both as Secretary-General of ASSAD and as a person living with diabetes, my proudest moment was seeing the impact beyond projected outcomes; people did not just receive the messages that we sent out, but saved and shared them with family, friends and other patients. The mobile phone allowed the message to be treated as dynamic content easily shared and amplified beyond the base population of subscribers.
Future Mobile Deployments
Having seen the benefits that this programme can bring to people with diabetes, I would like to see the m-Health initiative extended not just within Senegal, but across the region, the continent – and even the world. It is highly scalable, and has the ability to dramatically improve the quality of life of people living with diabetes and non-communicable diseases (NCDs) more widely, such as cardiovascular diseases, cancer, and kidney disease.
This blog is adapted from Baye Oumar Gueye’s ITU150 story, ‘Can ICTs transform access to health care?’ Read the full story here.
Baye Oumar Gueye
Baye Oumar Gueye is Secretary-General for the Association Sénégalaise de Soutien Aux Diabétiques (ASSAD) and Editor-in-Chief of SudFM, one of Senegal’s most popular private radio stations.