Inveneo ICTs for healthcare come to Sierra Leone
In March of 2008, Inveneo team members Jim Wiggins, Jeff Wishnie, and Eric Blantz traveled to Sierra Leone to work with the World Health Organization (WHO)/Health Metrics Network to install a series of pilot healthcare data systems at five locations – four district health offices and the Sierra Leone Ministry of Health. Two of sites were in the capital city, Freetown, while the other three were up-country, in Koidu, Makeni, and Moyamba.
Sierra Leone is the lowest-ranked country on the Human Development Index. And only recently has it emerged from civil war. It is a country with urgent and compelling needs for support and that’s why implementing even basic healthcare systems can be difficult, yet so very important.
The Inveneo team went there to install the systems, survey the countryside for future expansion, and make contact with local ICT entrepreneurs who could qualify for Inveneo Certified ICT Partners training and certification. Once certified, these ICT entrepreneurs would become Inveneo’s in-country partners, helping to expand the access to ICTs for healthcare and other vital projects around the country.
For Señor Software Engineer, Jim Wiggins, this was his first trip to Africa for Inveneo. What surprised him most when he arrived was the darkness at night — there were no lights on, even in the country capital Freetown.
Since no Inveneo team member had been to Sierra Leone before, the team had to perform site surveys before the installation could begin. A fair amount of improvisation was also required. For example, yellow plastic jugs were adapted to serve as battery covers. And most of the smaller pieces of equipment and network cabling had to be mounted to the wall to prevent accidental disconnection.
Knowing that they had limited time for up-country installations, the team set up a pre-assembly workspace in Jeff’s hotel room. Here the team tested everything, built junction boxes, and assembled cables.
At each location, the Inveneo systems were connected to the existing network. By adding a Linksys switch in the network connection, the Inveneo team enabled the doctors with laptops to connect to the network wirelessly. The team also managed to clean up the existing PCs, almost all of which were running several viruses communicated by USB memory sticks.
Upon arriving at each center, the team would quickly perform a site survey and assess the situation. The next day was spent installing systems and getting them powered and networked. The final morning was spent educating locals on the new systems before the team drove off to the next location. Since less than 10 percent of the roads are paved in Sierra Leone, these trips took the better part of half a day.
The challenges of deploying ICTs in Sierra Leone are much like most of Africa. A little more than five years after a brutal civil war, the country is rebuilding infrastructure with the help of NGOs and the UN. Grid power is very irregular, and never available at night. Up-country, it’s even more inconsistent. At up-country sites, people often fire up a portable generator in order to use a printer. While many of the centers have solar panels, solar is used to power refrigerators to keep vaccines and other medicines cool in the tropical climate.
With limited power, Inveneo systems are the perfect solution for Sierra Leone. Drawing 20W or less, the Inveneo systems can run all day off batteries charged during those times when power is on (either from the grid or through generators).
As for Jim, his first trip to sub-Saharan Africa was a success. When he arrived, he had little experience installing systems and performing site surveys. By the end, he was quite comfortable with both. Jim found that the people were happier than he expected, given that the country is last on the Human Development Index. They seemed very eager to rebuild their economy and infrastructure – they didn’t want handouts, rather they wanted help getting things back on track.
Sierra Leone has a long way to go, given the lack of reliable electricity, and the high price of fuel for generators. Still people are optimistic. They seem to feel that everything is looking up. And Jim returned home feeling good about his role in the movement to get the country back on track.