By Idrissa SANE
Le Soleil, Senegal
It is one of the great innovations of recent years in the field of global health, protecting lives and improving healthcare. Called Hope, it is an interface that helps to solve the problem of blood shortages in Senegal saving the lives of women who might otherwise die in childbirth or of people who suffer potentially fatal hemorrhages.
Two young engineers launched the platform, which raises awareness about the importance of blood donations.
"Hope is a web-based and mobile digital platform that allows blood banks and other healthcare facilities to manage blood stocks and to communicate interactively at anytime with blood donors, all while raising awareness of the importance of giving blood,” explained Cameroonian engineer Evelyne Inès Ntonga.She co-founded Diambars Mobiles, the startup that launched Hope, with Jean Luc Sémédo of Senegal. Both are alumni of the Multinational Telecommunications School of Dakar.
The engineers have created a form of ongoing interaction between blood banks and donors. The platform includes a mobile application that allows users to send text messages and conduct voice calls in a variety of local languages so that Hope can reach more people.
Hope is well-adapted to large healthcare facilities such as the National Center for Blood Transfusion of Senegal, which hosted the pilot phase of the project for seven months in 2016. “During this period, we reached nearly 30,000 people across all our platforms. What’s more, thanks to our solution, the number of blood donations at this center more than tripled,” said the engineer.
People say the platform helps them to understand the importance of this life-saving civic act. “We send thank you text messages after each donation and a reminder SMS three to four months after the last donation. During the pilot phase at the National Center for Blood Transfusion, we were able to reach about 1,930 donors over a period of seven months,” the startup’s co-founder said.
Another problem the project helps to solve is finding donors for rare blood types. Families and healthcare facilities often race against time when a patient with a rare blood type needs a transfusion. In Senegal, messages are frequently broadcast on the radio and families call their relatives to ask if they have the same blood type. Search time seldom works in favor of the patient, and some end up passing away. "When an urgent situation arises, the platform sends emergency SMS messages to all compatible donors in the same geographical area," explained Ntonga.
Hope is also a tool for inventory management, providing information on whether or not demands can be met. "Hope allows a blood bank to know in real time the number of blood bags it has, whether a request for transfusion can be immediately fulfilled, or if a potential donor can be tracked down quickly when an emergency occurs," the engineer said.
The digital innovation has also inspired Senegalese companies. "Hope has allowed many people to start organizing blood drives. We receive several messages on our Facebook page asking us to assist in the organization of blood donations in workplaces or schools,” noted Ntonga.
The Diambars Mobile startup won the 2015 Social Entrepreneur of the Year Award from mobile network operator Tigo and Swedish NGO Reach For Change. The innovation also received the Global South eHealth Observatory Award from the Pierre Fabre Foundation.