Nº 6 2015 > Celebrating ITU’s 150 Years

ICTs: drivers of innovation

Innovating with Baye:
Can ICTs transform access to health care?

ICTs: drivers of innovation

It is predicted that by 2030, 366 million people will be living with diabetes worldwide. Baye Oumar Gueye explains how mobile health solutions have revolutionized access to health care for diabetics in Senegal, and what this means for the treatment of non-communicable diseases around the world.

I have lived what many people would consider to be an active life, but at the age of seven, I was diagnosed with diabetes.

Managed properly, the disease does not tend to affect my day-to-day life. I completed two degrees at university, studying my Bachelors in Philosophy, followed by a Masters in Human Resource Management at the Bordeaux École de Management (BEM). I then worked my way up the ladder at SudFM, Senegal’s number one private radio station, from Reporter to Desk Chief, to Senior Reporter, to Editor-in-Chief, and in September 2014, to Director-General.

While it is true that diabetes radically alters your lifestyle — ensuring that your insulin levels are within a safe range throughout the day, and by closely monitoring your diet and exercise — it can be managed properly and effectively, and you can live a full and healthy life. Yet, this depends on receiving the right information for best practice, something that is not always easy to obtain. Information and communication technologies (ICT) are the most effective means to achieving dissemination of information. Today, mobile phones have a global reach of nearly 7 billion subscriptions, 3 billion people have access to the Internet and radios are near ubiquitous. Tapping into these services can provide direct, low-cost, engaging and innovative solutions to accessing health care for those suffering from this lifelong disease.

Supporting Senegal’s healthcare system

Because of changing lifestyles and diets, most countries in Africa are seeing increased diagnoses of diabetes — and Senegal is no exception. Over four per cent of the adult population lives with the disease across the country, but this could be as high as 10 per cent in some areas. However, these are just estimated numbers; there are still many undiagnosed cases, especially in remote and rural areas.

I am proud to be Secretary-General for the Association Sénégalaise de Soutien Aux Diabétiques (ASSAD). For close to 50 years, we have supported people who live with diabetes to help them independently manage their health and live active lives. Through our scientific, legal, medical and social commissions, we raise awareness about diabetes and its treatment, both to people with diabetes and the general public.

In 2014, we teamed up with ITU and WHO to launch their “Be He@lthy, Be Mobile” m‑Diabetes programme in Senegal. Senegal is well suited to this innovative programme; 83 per cent of the population has a mobile telephone, 40 per cent of which are smartphones capable of receiving images and videos.

The programme targets four relevant groups simultaneously: the general public; healthcare workers who may not be trained in chronic diseases; diabetics; and diabetics in a high-risk category with known complications.

m‑Ramadan pilot

A large majority of the Senegalese population is Muslim (94 per cent). Ramadan is a holy celebration in the Muslim faith where practitioners must fast for a month, not consuming foods or liquids from sunrise to sunset. Consequently, Ramadan is a risky period for diabetics: periods of fasting throughout the day are usually followed by a high sugar intake when consumption resumes in the evening. Because of this dietary irregularity, health authorities witness a peak in the urgent hospitalization of people with uncontrolled diabetes.

m‑Ramadan, the first deployment of the m‑Diabetes programme, was launched in 2014 to raise awareness about the dangers associated with this holy period and how to fast safely. People living with diabetes or healthcare professionals who had an interest in receiving recommendations about diabetes and fasting, could apply to receive SMS messages before, during and after Ramadan, free of charge.

Four weeks before Ramadan, we sent users one message a day to help them prepare for the month of fasting. This reduced to two a week during 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”. In total, 80 000 free SMS messages were distributed to more than 2000 users across the country.

ITU’s role

ITU was an active facilitator, bringing technical, logistical and organizational expertise to help see the project through from beginning to end. As a nationally deployed programme, we needed to reach different users. Having previous experience with public-private partnerships, ITU helped coordinate the participation of different telecommunications operators. With their assistance, we were able to stick to our schedule and help get people with diabetes safely through Ramadan.

This article is an abridgement.
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Celebrating ITU’s 150 Years

In this issue
No.6 November | December 2015

Pathway for smart sustainable cities:

A guide for city leaders

Pathway for smart sustainable cities|1

Meeting with the Secretary-General:

Official Visits

Meeting with the Secretary-General|1
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Boosting “SMEs” for ICT growth

What can governments do better?

A guide for city leaders

By Silvia Guzmán, Chairman, ITU Focus Group for Smart Sustainable Cities