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The East African : March 17th 2014
The EastAfrican 32 OUTLOOK MARCH 15-21,2014 S CI E N C E Tanzania best in e-health uptake Wazazi Nipendeni, an sms se≥vice p≥ovides info≥mation to p≥ospective pa≥ents By CHRISTABEL LIGAMI Special Correspondent T anzania has been rated as the best country in Africa for em- bracing and effectively implementing an e-health system. A survey by Excelsior Group, the global health care technology firm titled “Realising the Promise of Health Technology in Africa” ranked Tanzania as a top performer through its national e-Health system known as the Wazazi Nipendeni, (parents, love me) an SMS service that provides information on pre- and post-natal care for prospective parents. Excelsior said that through the innovation, more than 125,000 pregnant mothers have had access throug out the country. “More than five million messages have been sent under the initiative, which began in 2012,” said Felix Olale, Excelsior executive chairman. According to Muttah Saulo, the project leader, the system provides information on pre- and post-natal care for prospective parents. “Messages include time sensitive reminders for such events as antenatal clinic visits and taking of malaria prevention medication. The system also sends health tips when the information is relevant to the subscriber,” he said. The text messages incorporate a broad range of complementary topics, including prevention of Mother to Child Transmission of HIV/Aids, antenatal care; family planning, malaria prevention and nutrition. “The content of all messages is in accordance with Tanzania public health guidelines and culture,” he said. Apart from self-enrolment by ei- ther an expectant mother or a new mother, Mr Saulo says the moth- BRIEFS Uganda, Rwanda, girls to get cancer vaccine A vaccine against the human papillomavirus (HPV) that causes cervical cancer will be administered to 1.5 million young girls in Rwanda, Uganda and Uzbekistan under a new programme announced by the Gavi Alliance. The programme will target both in and out of school girls between the ages of 10 and 12. Immunisation before the start of sexual activity and possible exposure to the virus is a key strategy to preventing cervical cancer. Spread of crop diseases a threat to food security MATERNAL MORTALITY Burundi has highest child and maternal mortality rates with 800 women dying per 100,000 live births and 104 under-five deaths per 1,000 live births Kenya and Rwanda have 360 and 340 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births, respectively In Uganda 310 women die per 100,000 live births Women in Tanzania have a lifetime maternal death risk of 1 in 38, and every year Tanzania records the death of 48,100 new-borns, ranking it 10th highest in the world. The content of all messages is in accordance with Tanzania public health guidelines.” Muttah Saulo, the project leader ers are also registered during their prenatal and postnatal visits to the health centres and advised on the benefits. Comparatively, in Kenya, where there are about 183 innovative healthcare programmes, Excelsior said only 44 per cent have re- ported using information technology as a core part of their approach to improving the quality, affordability, and accessibility of healthcare. The other top performers in embracing e-health technology in Africa are South Africa, Ethiopia, Rwanda and Ghana. Experts said ehealth technologies could help Africa deal with health care challenges in the next decade. Experts at the firm said East Af- rica is slowly reaching a tipping point that would see large-scale innovative solutions addressing the region’s health concerns. Catherine Paulo, who cannot hide her joy after having a safe delivery 10 months ago, says the text messages she kept receiving from her mobile phone were her lifeline during the entire pregnancy . “I enrolled to the service (Wa- zazi Nipendeni) when I was one month pregnant after hearing it advertised on the radio,” says the 27-year-old. “I only sent a message titled, mtoto, (child)to the number 15001 as per the advert instructions and after giving details on my pregnancy, I started getting short messages first on a daily basis and later at least four times a week on my pregnancy status and advice on nutrition, when to go for my antenatal clinic visits, when to take my malaria prevention drugs, and general health care.” Juanita Ferentinos, Partnership Director mHealth Tanzania Partnership CDC Foundation says that providing high quality antenatal care (ANC) information during pregnancy to keeping mothers and babies healthy has had a tremendous impact on reducing maternal and newborn mortality rates in Tanzania. According to the latest Save the Children report, although both the neonatal and maternal mortality rates are still high in Tanzania, compared with the other East African countries, the deaths have gone down by 5 per cent over the past two years. Currently, the neonatal mortal- ity rate is 21 per 1,000 live births while the maternal mortality ratio is 460 per 100,000 live births. Vitamin D inc≥eases b≥east cance≥ patients’ su≥vival ≥ate Farmers spraying coffee plants By A SPECIAL CORESPONDENT ScienceDaily BREAST CANCER patients with high levels of vitamin D in their blood are twice as likely to survive the disease as women with low levels of this nutrient, shows a report by researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine. In previous studies, Cedric F. Garland, profes- sor in the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine, showed that low vitamin D levels were linked to a high risk of premenopausal breast cancer. That finding, he said, prompted him to question the relationship between 25hydroxyvitamin D — a metabolite produced by the body from the ingestion of vitamin D — and breast cancer survival rates. Prof Garland and colleagues performed a sta- tistical analysis of five studies of 25-hydroxyvitamin D obtained at the time of patient diagnosis and their follow-up for an average of nine years. “Vitamin D metabolites increase communication between cells by switching on a protein that blocks aggressive cell division,” said Prof Garland. “As long as vitamin D receptors are present tumor growth is prevented and kept from expanding its blood supply. Vitamin D receptors are not lost until a tumor is very advanced. This is the reason for better survival in patients whose vitamin D blood levels are high.” Women in the high serum group had an aver- age level of 30 nanogrammes per milliliter (ng/ ml) of 25-hydroxyvitamin D in their blood. The low group averaged 17 ng/ml. The average level in patients with breast cancer in the US is 17 ng/ml. “The study has implications for including vitamin D as an adjuvant to conventional breast cancer therapy,” said co-author Heather Hofflich, UC San Diego associate professor in the Department of Medicine. Garland recommended randomised control- led clinical trials to confirm the findings but suggested physicians consider adding vitamin D into a breast cancer patient’s standard care now and then closely monitor the patient. “There is no compelling reason to wait for further studies to incorporate vitamin D supplements into standard care regimens since a safe dose of vitamin D needed to achieve high serum levels above 30 ng/ml has already been established,” said Prof Garland. A 2011 meta-analysis by Prof Garland and colleagues estimated that a serum level of 50 ng/ml is associated with 50 per cent lower risk of breast cancer. NCDs on the rise but awareness low in Africa Although non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are on the rise in Africa, awareness of the risk factors is still low among citizens, according to a study conducted by the University of Nairobi. Richard Ayah, the principal investigator said changes in lifestyles, uncontrolled exposure to electromagnetism due to ubiquitous presence of electronic gadgets like mobile phones, microwaves and satellite dishes coupled with poor and unhealthy eating habits are the major driving force behind rise in NCDs. The spread of crop diseases is threatening food security in the two main regions of the Lake Zone. The diseases, according to Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology in Africa are Cassava Mosaic, Brown Streak, Maize Lethal Necrosis and Banana Wilt. Researchers say there is a need for research to determine the source of the spread of the diseases, but they are afraid of the law governing agricultural research. Chief Researcher of the Tanzania Commission for Science and Technology Nicholaus Nyange, says some laws delay efforts to stem spread in crop diseases. Developing countries have more crop pests The number of pests plaguing crops in the developing world may be vastly underestimated, contributing to severely reduced harvests in some of the world’s most important food-producing nations, say researchers. About 200 pests and pathogens per country fly under the radar of researchers and policymakers in the developing world due to a lack of technical capacity to detect them, according to a study.
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March 24th 2014