In 2021 I had the opportunity to join a start-up that provided support for schools and businesses to safely reopen in the COVID-19 pandemic. We developed an app to support symptom monitoring, created a vaccine navigator program, and collaborated with local organizations to host vaccine clinics in historically marginalized communities. That was the first time I began to dream about what it could mean to center technology within local communities to bridge disparities in healthcare.
When Dr. Huchko offered me the opportunity to join her team to develop a new iteration of a mobile app, I couldn’t have been more excited. Our app, mSaada, is an integrated digital platform that provides support for community health volunteer-led cervical cancer prevention services. It seeks to improve completion of the key steps in the cervical cancer screening cascade by providing patient education and screening reminders, specimen tracking, result management, follow-up support, and treatment scheduling as needed.
I started developing the barebones of the app in the fall of 2022 but had difficulty envisioning how it would be implemented. It felt important to be able to understand the context, so I’m grateful for opportunity to spend my elective block in Kisumu. While perhaps coding has been less efficient here between the occasional power outage and spotty Wi-Fi connection, the opportunities to bounce ideas with my colleagues and our community partners have more than made up for that.
The past 5 weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to work alongside our Kisumu team and the Duke SRT students to build the remaining parts of mSaada and to create resources to ensure successful rollout. It’s much easier to understand the current workflows (such as processing lab samples) when you can walk through each step in-person. One of my highlights has been developing tools to help my colleagues become more efficient at their jobs, reducing their time manually manipulating data and freeing them to use their skillset to their maximum potential.
This experience has also been a reminder that community-centered work is not a linear process and that efficiency cannot be the primary goal. Take, for example, our protocol for notifying clients of their HPV test results. We’ve made changes to this protocol several times due to concerns about stigma related to a positive HPV result. Each time we change our protocol, I’ve been making changes to the app accordingly, which takes time. If I were developing this app across the world, these changes would have felt more frustrating. But since I’m in Kisumu, I’ve had the opportunity to discuss with my colleagues, offer my perspective in our meetings with local clinics and likewise hear their opinions in return. It’s going to take some more time and additional discussions, but it has been incredibly meaningful to contextualize my coding in the community. These conversations are what transform a generic app to a community-centered platform.
Technology can exacerbate health disparities, but situating technology in the community also has the power to bridge gaps in healthcare. I’m excited to see how mSaada affects cervical cancer screening uptake — and to continue to dream of other ways we can leverage technology to address health disparities in low- and middle-income settings.
Our Kisumu team with the SRT students!
My last day in the office 🥲
I went to Masai Mara with a new friend, Sergine, on the quest for my spirit animal. I decided it was the elephant!
Exploring a tea farm in Nairobi with my friend Emily, who is working in Eldoret!