Social innovation: changing times, changing lives

29 June 2015 | Lisa Temkin-Todes | Insight

Client Relationship Manager | Insight

With a great deal of social innovation taking place in South Africa, it’s the ideal time to be inspired by some of the latest solutions being used in local healthcare…

Defined as a “novel” solution to an existing social problem, a social innovation is typically more efficient, effective and sustainable than other solutions already on offer, and adds value to society as a whole as opposed to individuals. Many of the latest social innovations on the market are a direct result of advancements in technology, offering NGOs new ways of connecting to and assisting communities.

Mobile technology is becoming an increasingly important tool in global health programmes, specifically in lower- and middle-income countries where people have traditionally had limited access to health services based on geographic distance to services, social marginalisation, inadequate skilled medical personnel or a lack of financial resources, among others. Mobile technology can help overcome these challenges efficiently and cost-effectively, making it a powerful tool that is revolutionising the way in which health services are delivered in the public health space.

Tshikululu has recently seen an increase in the number of technology based health-related interventions. A number of these technologies can be scaled up to improve early diagnosis and reduce costs, particularly in under-resourced communities.

One such programme, supported by the Discovery Fund, is MomConnect.

The MomConnect programme was launched by Reducing Maternal and Child Mortality through Strengthening Primary Healthcare (RMCH), in conjunction with the National Department of Health towards the end of 2014. It uses a mobile phone platform to track and record pregnancies, as well as the quality of care given to pregnant women at public healthcare facilities. It is also being used to upskill midwives in the public sector. The Discovery Fund hopes that its support of this intervention will help to reduce under-five mortality, and optimise health and protective child development in line with the Millennium Development Goals.

Social innovation and mobile technology are additionally being used to assist with detection, diagnosis and referral of healthcare problems. This entails a community of practice linked by technology (as opposed to isolated front-line workers) that has easy access to reference materials and advice from upstream colleagues, as well as access to closed-loop feedback on patients’ treatment, including necessary follow-up procedures to ensure better outcomes.

The Discovery Fund is also currently assessing support for a comprehensive, technology-based eye-care programme that will improve the detection, diagnosis and referral of eye health problems. This will increase the capacity of health workers within the public health system and thereby assist patients to receive appropriate care at the right time and place. (This is the result of a strengthened referral system in partnership with the Department of Health.)

These are just some examples of how technology is being used innovately to solve some of South Africa’s healthcare challenges. Each is proof that it’s not always large, expensive ideas that are able to enhance social investment – and results – and make a real difference in the lives of communities.