Increasing access to health information for better decision-making
HIV is one of the leading causes of death in Tanzania, with 1.6 million adults and children living with the disease.1,2 Adolescent girls and young women (AGYW) are at a higher risk of dying from HIV compared to other demographic groups. Although initiatives exist to fight the disease in Tanzania, many people lack proper access to information on HIV/AIDs. As a result, people rely on limited and/or outdated information when making health-related decisions. Even for individuals already knowledgeable about their health issues, it can be difficult to access medical information. Government ministries and NGOs generate a lot of data, but much of the data are project-specific and cannot be easily utilized by the broader society.
Photo Credit: TanzMED Team
For many AGYW, access to correct health information poses a challenge. A lack of quality health information also contributes to poor male partner participation, which is necessary in order to create a safe environment for AGYW. There is a need for quality health information to increase male partner participation in order to create a safe environment for AGYW; protect AGYW against risks of contracting HIV/AIDS and other STDs; and create new sources of income and employment for local health workers.
TanzMED is a platform available both online and offline that provides information about HIV/AIDS and medical services. With this platform, visitors can read health-related articles written by medical specialists, access medical-related information (e.g., nearby health facilities) with predefined filters, receive direct consultation from a specialist, and access different tools (e.g. medication reminders, menstrual management and trackers, baby clinic management, HIV knowledge, and more). Also, to help AGYW, TanzMED seeks to involve male partners in health-related decisions by aiming to engage men on different levels. For example, linking men to their female partner’s menstrual tracker can help them make decisions together concerning family planning. Male partners can also access information about HIV/AIDS and other diseases from TanzMED’s articles to help protect AGYW from HIV infection.
We started researching user needs by meeting with different stakeholders: AGYW, male partners, medical specialists, and government authorities. Our aim was to understand how our solution could best serve all these groups. For example, we wanted to know how much users trust physician advice received online versus in person. We found that users prefer online tools because of their simplicity and flexibility. We also found that most AGYW in the urban Temeke District own a smart phone and can afford to pay an average of Tsh 5000/= for private medical advice from TanzMed’s physician network. We also discovered that different stakeholders have different needs. We had to balance between policymakers, doctors and everyday users. For example, doctors need simple and undemanding tools, while users need quick replies. Meanwhile, the government wants to make sure its guidelines are being followed. We therefore hired a public health specialist to serve as a bridge and review content before it is posted. After following the government processes, we received a recognition letter from Ministry of Health that TanzMed can proceed with our educational efforts.
Outcomes and Impacts
As its aim was to increase data access, TanzMED has made up to 1,400 health facilities easily accessible. These facilities were previously available both online and offline in Ministry of Health or Pharmacy Council archives, but few people were aware of the information. By incorporating the facility data into TanzMED, users can find facility details such as specialties, accepted insurance, contacts, and location as well as make appointments via TanzMED. More than 500 visitors use the site daily, where they can access more than 240 Swahili language health articles. TanzMED appears on Google as the first hit for all health-related searches in Tanzania and has more than 1 million page views. On top of these successes, child clinical data has now been integrated. Now more than 100 male partners are connected to Toto Clinic, where they can access child growth data and participate in their children’s healthcare.
In addition to the Ministry of Health recognizing TanzMED as a credible education platform and source of information, TanzMED has also been invited by the Ministry of Health Zanzibar to expand to Zanzibar. Two private partners have expressed interest in working with TanzMED as well. Safari media group wishes to partner for service delivery to the Southern Regions (Lindi, Mtwara, and Songea), while The Medical Concierge Group – Uganda, which already operates in Kenya, Nigeria, and Uganda wants to use TanzMED as a platform for telemedicine in Tanzania.
2. “Country Factsheets: United Republic of Tanzania”, UNAIDS, 2018