Reaching the Hard-to-Reach

Solutions to the Healthcare and Nutrition Crisis in the Lake Chad Region

By Natalya Nepomnyashcha

Years of violent conflict and forced displacement have affected around 17 million people in the Lake Chad Basin, including the regions of North-eastern Nigeria, Northern Cameroon, Western Chad and South-east Niger. Due to food insecurity and the lack of basic healthcare services, the region is experiencing a widespread health crisis and high levels of malnutrition. Accessing the most remote, insecure, and hard-to-reach areas for emergency service provision and humanitarian assistance remains a pressing challenge.

eHealth Africa (eHA) is a health social enterprise focused on improving health systems in West Africa. eHA designs and implements data-driven solutions that respond to local needs and provides underserved communities with tools to lead healthier lives. The German-African Business Association (Afrika-Verein der Deutschen Wirtschaft) is the foreign trade association representing German companies and institutions with an interest in Africa.

Panelists L-R: Anna Sophia Rainer, Prof. Dr. Titus Kühne, Natalya Nepomnyashcha, Dr. Gabriele Poggensee, and Anu Parvatiyar.

Panelists L-R: Anna Sophia Rainer, Prof. Dr. Titus Kühne, Natalya Nepomnyashcha, Dr. Gabriele Poggensee, and Anu Parvatiyar.

Together, the two institutions hosted an event that provided insights into what is happening in the Lake Chad Basin and identify solutions. The speakers included:

  • Dr. Gabriele Poggensee, Global Health and Biosecurity Unit, Robert Koch Institute
  • Prof. Dr. Titus Kühne, Director, Institute for Computer-assisted Medicine, Charité
  • Anu Parvatiyar, Associate Director, Programs, eHealth Africa

After an introduction by Anna Sophia Rainer, Project Manager, German–African Business Association, the panelists discussed the most pressing issues in the Lake Chad Basin. These included drought, terrorist insurgencies, insecurity, lack of equipment, poor infrastructure, dissatisfaction with the governments, and as a result, shaky political conditions.

Functioning disease surveillance systems are one necessary component to help detect and respond to other health problems. Dr. Poggensee believes that the Ebola outbreak of 2014 was a wake-up call for the whole world. Since then, developed countries have been more willing to invest not only in humanitarian aid but also into strengthening health systems and building capacities for potential outbreak responses in Africa. In this context, trained personnel are key to any successful response. Tools are great, but it’s more important that people know how to use them effectively.

eHA works on the outbreak response for polio and broader disease surveillance efforts in the Lake Chad Basin. Having supported polio eradication in Nigeria for several years, eHA helps track immunization campaigns across the region. With polio receiving substantial attention and funding, it also opens doors for related work, such as GIS mapping. For immunization and other aid purposes, it is important to know the location of settlements and points of interest, especially in regions where many roads or entire villages have been destroyed by active insurgents. eHA uses satellite imagery and field intelligence to provide invaluable data that enable aid to reach hard-to-reach populations.

Speaking on the use of digital tools, Prof. Dr. Kühne pointed out that we need a more coordinated approach so tools complement each other as opposed to several projects either targeting the same issue from different directions or missing the bigger picture completely. Rwanda, the Silicon Valley of Africa, is a positive example for a well-managed and interoperable system. To Prof. Dr. Kühne, ownership is the key factor in handling digital health tools.

Dr. Poggensee, Prof. Dr. Kühne, Natalya (Comms & Operations Coordinator, eHA) and Anu. 

Dr. Poggensee, Prof. Dr. Kühne, Natalya (Comms & Operations Coordinator, eHA) and Anu. 

According to Dr. Poggensee, another challenge is that many stakeholders develop new digital tools that are not compatible with the existing tools used by WHO. She stressed that this is vastly important since surveillance should not be done for the sake of collecting data, but for the sake of taking action. Anu Parvatiyar summarized it in a nutshell: Instead of collecting data to do reporting, it is essential to collect real-time data to be able to react promptly in case of an emergency. This is exactly where digital tools provide a huge advantage.

Integrating tech and health, eHA achieves its mission by establishing new standards in the delivery of healthcare to most vulnerable communities in West Africa. If you are interested in working with us, please have a look at our job board or contact our team at berlin@eHealthAfrica.org.