Facebook and leading Health Organizations form alliance for advancing health online

Facebook is partnering with leaders from the technology, healthcare, global development and academic sectors to establish the Alliance for Advancing Health Online. This new initiative aims to advance public understanding of how social media and behavioral sciences can be leveraged to improve the health of communities around the world. 

The partners of the Alliance include the Bay Area Global Health Alliance, the CDC Foundation, Facebook, the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy, Merck, Sabin Vaccine Institute, the Vaccine Confidence Project at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, the World Bank and the World Health Organization. Merck and Facebook are each committing $20 million to this multi-year initiative, which will initially focus on addressing vaccine hesitancy and vaccine equity among underserved communities. 

“Social media is a powerful, constantly evolving tool that is shaping opinions and behaviors across the globe,” said Heidi Larson, PhD, head of the Vaccine Confidence Project at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. “The Alliance will help us build a deeper understanding of the dynamics of health communication online and how the global community can use social media to improve health.”

The Alliance has established the Vaccine Confidence Fund, an independent fund to support research on how social media and online platforms can best support confidence in and access to COVID-19 vaccines around the world, as well as routine immunizations impacted by the pandemic. The goal of this initial research is to produce timely, practical applications, focused on reaching historically underserved communities and those communities particularly at risk in the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The Fund will provide grants to researchers and organizations that are exploring how best to use behavioral science, social media and digital platforms to build confidence in and access to vaccines. Global Impact, which will manage this fund on behalf of the Alliance, has issued a request for proposals. Researchers who would like to participate in this effort can apply here

All of the findings generated through this research will be shared quickly, broadly and publicly. To this end, Facebook is awarding grants to the Sabin Vaccine Institute and Bay Area Global Health Alliance who will facilitate a series of community discussions over the coming months. 

Facebook together with partners, have seen promising results from their health work over the past few years. This highlights the Alliance’s opportunity to better understand what’s working, so it can be replicated and scaled.

“The Alliance for Advancing Health Online and the new Vaccine Confidence Fund are important steps forward in leveraging social media for health impact at scale. A recent collaboration between WHO and Facebook demonstrated what this can achieve. WHO’s Science Behind Vaccines campaign ran globally, resonating most among Spanish and Chinese speaking audiences who expressed an increased willingness to get the COVID-19 vaccine by 2.8 and 2.9 percentage points, respectively, across more than 50 million people.” – Andy Pattison, Team Lead, Digital Channels, WHO.

At the same time, we recognize that more research and understanding is needed to replicate and scale the approaches that work, and to learn from those that do not. By bringing together public and private sector partners, we hope the Alliance will accelerate our collective ability to have a lasting positive impact on health behavior through leveraging the unique scale and personalization of digital channels.


KTRN partners with Babyl to power digital healthcare during the pandemic

KTRN, Rwanda’s only 4G LTE wholesaler company, has joined Babyl Rwanda in its efforts to expand digital healthcare across the country through the #ConnectRwanda Initiative.

Mark Karomba, Chief Corporate Relations & HR Officer at KTRN and the Medical Director at Babyl, Dr. Patrick Singa at the launch of KTRN& Babyl Partnership & handover of smartphones.

KTRN has donated 500 smartphones to Babyl; 350 Smartphones to Health Centers that partner with Babyl, and 150 smartphones to Babyl Health Center Agents.

“KTRN, being a pioneer in the latest LTE technologies in Rwanda, is always looking for ways of championing technology-based solutions to Rwandan challenges. It is a priority & an opportunity to participate in empowering the Rwandan health sector, especially in telemedicine.

With the Covid-19 pandemic outbreak, we felt responsible for facilitating Rwandans in accessing the health care services using digital technologies, benefiting from the Nation-wide 4G LTE network coverage.” said DAEHEAK Aaron AN, Chief Executive Officer at Korea Telecom Rwanda Networks (KTRN).

Donating 4G-enabled smartphones is also in line with the Government’s #ConnectRwanda initiative aimed at increasing smartphone penetration in Rwanda. In partnership with Babyl Rwanda, KTRN is embarking on promoting digital health care as a way to deliver primary and safe care to Rwandans. Embracing digital health care will enable many of the medical services to continue operating regularly and without interruption in the course of this pandemic while minimizing the spread of COVID-19.

Babyl enables health centers across Rwanda to triage patients and connects them to clinicians via digital consultations.

The donated smartphones will support Babyl’s project allowing health care workers and Babyl agents from various Health centers across the country to better serve the population.

“KTRN donation is contributing to the Government vision of digitization of health centers by providing suitable devices enabling patients to connect with a Babyl doctor or nurse over the phone. This solution is aiming at reducing the demand for health center staff. We remain committed to accelerating Rwanda’s digital health agenda in partnership with the Government of Rwanda and KTRN in playing a key role in helping us achieve our mission.” said Shivon Byamukama, Managing Director at Babyl Rwanda

By accessing doctors over the phones for primary medical care reduces the burden of the physical health facilities and the medical staff will have time freed-up for patients with the most urgent and complex issue.


Delivery drones: Why Zipline is switching to 24/7 operations

The new operation method, according to the firm’s country director, Joseph Ndagijimana, was launched on Tuesday, February 16, after securing approval from the Rwanda Civil Aviation Authority.

He explained that ever since Zipline launched its operations in Rwanda in 2016, there has been a sharp night-time demand from various hospitals.

“Some of them come to the distribution centres and then, you know, they would pick up some products from our bank. This pushed us to expand our operations to be able to sustain even the emergencies at night,” he said.

Currently, Zipline has a fleet of about 65 drones, with a capacity to carry out 150 deliveries from each of the distribution centres.

The firm has already established partnerships with a total of 320 health facilities especially in remote areas.

“Some of the hospitals used to requisition for medical products towards the end of the day because we were not available during the night. This means that now they can’t do that anymore, they can wait to order until they need that product or if their stock gets below minimum level.” He said.

Knowing that they (hospitals) can call Zipline at any time of the day, that is what we are providing, Ndahijimana added.

“It basically comes with a sense of security knowing that even if you don’t have it you can always get it when the situation presents itself.”

“Some hospitals used to transfer patients, because maybe they didn’t have the blood type a patient needed in that particular time. And if you do the transfer to a different health facility that will lead to a higher cost.”

Consequently, he noted that the move will ensure that unlike in the past, hospitals will reduce on the amount of inventory they had, “because they can get it on demand.”

Currently, the drone firm delivers more than 200 different medical products including emergency vaccines.

Medics speak out

Speaking to The New Times in a phone call interview, Director General at Rwamagana District Hospital, Dr. Jean Nepo Abdallah Utumatwishima, commended the move citing that, majority of the patients who lose their lives at night result from the lack of timely delivery of blood among other medical products.

“Most emergency situations that call for blood transfusion occur at night, and this is a big problem especially in remote area.”

With Zipline switching to a non-stop service, there is hope that these patient’s lives can be saved.

“Because in most cases this patient can’t wait for the morning hours. So if you can place an order that can come in time, you will have a chance to save a life.” Utumatwishima reiterated.

Home deliveries in the pipeline

Meanwhile, Ndagijimana revealed that patients could soon receive their medical deliveries directly in their homes from the drone firm.

When pressed for details he said, “This is maybe something we can talk about but we are also thinking about delivering products directly to some patient’s homes, at some point, this is a project in the making.”

Since making its first drop in Rwanda in 2016 out of its Muhanga-based distribution centre, Zipline has since expanded its activities in other countries including Ghana and the United States.


UNICEF and Airtel launch Internet of Good Things

UNICEF and Airtel have launched the Internet of Good Things in Rwanda – an innovative digital platform with information and resources which promote better, healthier living. Internet of Good Things is a UNICEF-led initiative, accessible in over 60 countries and territories around the world, helping bridge the digital divide and build knowledge-based societies.

The Internet of Good Things platform hosts mobile-packaged content from UNICEF and its partners, designed to make life-saving and life-improving information available at no cost – even on low-end devices, and basic web-enabled mobile phones. By providing greater access to information and feedback tools, Internet of Good Things also allows youth and citizens to take part in critical discussions and voice their opinions.

Through this new partnership, Internet of Good Things is now accessible free of data charges – in English and Kinyarwanda – on an Airtel SIM card via https://rw.goodinternet.org.

Internet of Good Things is bringing change in awareness and knowledge to critical areas, and continues to aim in assisting bringing change in attitudes and behaviours as a result of new knowledge.  The initiative is also helping to bridge the digital divide and increase access to critical information.

“Many communities and individuals across Rwanda do not have easy or affordable access to life-saving information. Young people especially are vulnerable to misinformation about communicable diseases like COVID-19, sexual and gender-based violence, early and unintended pregnancies, HIV/AIDS and more,” says Amit Chawla, Managing Director of Airtel Rwanda. “With Internet of Good Things available to provide greater access to this information, we are not only building digital literacy, but addressing these challenges and vulnerabilities that would otherwise compound.”

New users to Internet of Good Things can find updated information on COVID-19 prevention, how youth can stay informed and get involved in the fight against the virus, parenting tips, and interactive information on when to get vaccinated and against which diseases. Users can also create free accounts to comment on articles, ask questions, and participate in polls.

“Internet of Good Things allows anyone to be empowered to make more informed decisions around their health, ending violence, preventing diseases like COVID-19, raising children and more,” says Julianna Lindsey, UNICEF Representative in Rwanda. “We are especially pleased that this collaboration between UNICEF and Airtel will allow us to reach some of the most disadvantaged populations and marginalized communities who might otherwise never access such vital information.”

UNICEF’s global engagement with the private sector leverages resources to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and contribute towards national development agendas. In Rwanda, the private sector – including the telecommunication industry – is considered to be a force multiplier for the country’s development and addressing the needs of children.