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In Kenya and Tanzania, as well as most of East Africa, quality healthcare is a major problem. There is one doctor for every 50,000 people in the region. Compare that to the United States, where there is a doctor for every 390 people. Complicating matters is a lack of means to train adequate numbers of medical personnel, a poor economy—mean household income is about $1 a day—and the large distances many people must travel to receive help. Many simply don’t make the effort.
Mansali, a Kenyan mother of three, lives in a village with no doctors. She has been coughing for about a month, and then her daughter also developed a cough. To reach medical help, she and her three small children would have to walk for an hour to a taxi stop, and then ride for two hours to reach the hospital. Then they would wait in line for two or three hours to see a doctor. Mansali would lose three days of pay. She also couldn’t afford medicine or a return trip to the hospital for follow-up. For those reasons she put off going to the doctor. While concerned, she decides to wait and see if the coughs subside.
Khanjan Mehta, Senior Research Associate in the Department of Electronics and Computer Services at Penn State University’s College of Engineering, has been working summers in Kenya for the past three years. He says that most Kenyans like Mansali live in rural areas and do not get the medical attention they need. People 60 years old (and older) had never had their temperatures taken. Children didn’t receive inoculations.
“We did one village that’s 40 km (24.8 miles) from Nairobi,” Mehta says. “There’s one clinic for 10 villages. Some are on the other side of a mountain. People walked for five hours to reach a doctor. The problem is very, very real.”
So, if the community can’t get to the doctors, why not use technology to accomplish it?