Last Thursday, Mr Daniel Kimemia and Mr Joseph Gachanja set off by road for the bi-annual Africa Health Agenda International Conference (AHAIC 2023) in Kigali, Rwanda.
The duo on a mission to use the platform to raise awareness on Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) ferried a team of medics that has been offering free screening services to those attending the conference.
They covered 1,200 kilometres while traversing through Uganda.
They tell the Nation that they drove an ambulance that is attached to one of 11 solar-powered mobile clinics rolled out last year in a partnership that involves Amref Health Africa , AstraZeneca and the Ministry of Health (MoH).
The custom-built clinics are fitted with solar-powered fridges and backup power supply while timely data capture and reporting is facilitated through onsite web-enabled computers.
Amref Flying Doctors (AFD) replenish the mobile clinics whenever they are in hard to reach areas to ensure their effective deployment.
“ This solar powered mobile clinic really helps us during our operations because it has a fridge , an air –conditioner and I love that we are using clean energy. We started the journey on Thursday, the journey was very good despite the normal challenges but we got here very well,” Mr Kimemia said while adding that solar-powered mobile clinics are far much better because one does not have to look for a generator.
“ Community health workers and doctors are able to effectively charge their phones and tablets for data collection while working in far-flung last mile areas, we never have to say we are going to look for power because we always have enough.”
As we enter the mobile clinic, we find Mr Byingiro Oscar , a Rwandese medic screening one of the attendees of the conference.
“ This is my first time working from a solar-powered mobile clinic, this is so amazing because it makes work easier compared to the regular ones we usually use plus I am enjoying the air-condition on this hot day.”
According to Maureen Cherongis who is in charge of media relations at Amref Health Africa, they have done so many outreaches using the solar powered mobile clinics since June last year when the vehicles were launched for Covid-19 vaccination drives in an effort to protect last-mile communities.
The launch came at a time when access and uptake of Covid-19 vaccines in the country was sluggish because as of 17 June 2022, only 31.4 percent of the adult population was fully vaccinated against coronavirus , while Africa’s average vaccination rate was then at 17.7 percent lagging behind other world regions.
According to Amref, each of the mobile clinic aimed to vaccinate 70-100 people per day reaching up to 1,000 people per day once all 11 mobile clinics are fully operational.
“ We are so passionate about strengthening primary healthcare which is why we go to so many counties , this is about taking services to last mile communities and contributing to the attainment of universal health coverage.
The mobile clinics bring services that are really needed closer and they work day and night apart from being environmental friendly thanks to two huge solar panels and four rechargeable huge batteries,” she told the Nation in an interview.
While agreeing with Ms Terongis, Caroline Mbindyo-Amref Health Innovations CEO told the Nation that what they noticed based on the data that they collected is that many of the community members were not going to the health facilities for vaccination.
“ When we asked them why they were not going for Covid-19 vaccinations , it was inconvenient to them because they had lots of things to do like going to the market and would not prioritise particularly after the pandemic was seen to have ‘ reduced’.
We tried to think of ways we could get these vaccines to communities and this is what we came up with because we were looking at how do communities behave,” what is their culture , who do they trust ?”
The innovations boss further discloses that they thought about how to make the mobile clinics remain sustainable.
“It is powered by solar, has its own tank which means it carries its own water , has a refrigerator which means that it is able to maintain the cold chain for the vaccines it moves around with.
Now that we had this infrastructure, we asked ourselves, what is the last mile challenge because it is beyond Covid-19 vaccinations as we have a growing burden of NCDs in Africa which is why are now improved it with a portable x-ray, a portable ultrasound so that we can be able to offer screening services for communities.”
Ms Mbindyo further points out why this is important.
“A lot of people in Africa who suffer from NCDs get diagnosed very late which means that it is more costly for them, for the health system and the health outcomes are likely to be poorer, we are hoping to deploy them in other countries like Rwanda, Uganda, Zanzibar where they can be able to reach communities that are unserved or under-served.”