The MTN SA Foundation, the corporate social investment vehicle of MTN SA, was established in 2001. Driven by the operator’s core belief that access to information and communication is key to economic development, the Foundation harnesses the company’s leading innovations in telecommunications to drive community upliftment. In 2014, just as MTN SA celebrated 20 years of providing its customers with access to world-class cellular network, voice and data services, the MTN SA Foundation used the same innovations and technology to uplift communities for self-reliance in this bold, new, digital world.
USING TECHNOLOGY TO ADDRESS HEALTHCARE CHALLENGES
The growing recognition of the importance of health has driven an unprecedented expansion in development assistance in this sector. According to Christopher Murray and his colleagues from the Institute for Health Metrics & Evaluation, development assistance increased from US$10,5 billion in 2000 to US$26,8 billion in 2010. It has also led to the creation of new forms of organisation. For example, there are now close to 120 multilateral agencies and partnerships active in health. Most of these countries, including SA, suffer from a triple burden of disease:
1. The backlog of common infections, malnutrition and maternal mortality.
2. The emerging challenges of non-communicable diseases, such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease and mental illness.
3. The problems directly related to globalisation.
Statistics show that for every 6 000 people in SA, there is only one medical specialist. Sadly, this number doubles when it comes to remote areas. Referrals to hospitals are often difficult for patients living in these areas and invariably involve the cost of transport to and from the facility and accommodation, as well as loss of income. For many people, a specialist’s diagnosis is unaffordable, leaving a large number of patients inadequately treated or doomed to die from a preventable and treatable disease.
The above factors have informed one of the focus programme areas of the Foundation. The support for the Telemedicine project and advancements in that area have continued beyond the research phase initiated in 2008, in partnership with the Medical Research Council. The pilot project looked to technology to address challenges surrounding access to specialist referrals and healthcare services. Through the Telemedicine project, nurses and doctors in remote areas would be able to consult urban-based specialists to interpret symptoms, make diagnoses and prescribe treatment, without patients having to travel to distant hospitals.
The initial research phase investment was in excess of R8 million. Currently, there are 76 workstations in operation. The project has also used advanced technology such as real-time communication via Skype as the preferred model for engaging on this platform. The projection for the MTN SA Foundation is to set up more than 200 workstations in the rural communities of SA and to train more than 1 000 healthcare workers to use this platform in order to increase access to healthcare by 2018. These workstations consist of a touch-screen computer, an examination camera, electronic medical equipment and 3G Internet connectivity.
The Foundation has continued to invest in research that seeks to advance the provision of healthcare and information in SA. The challenges for HIV and Aids in SA have remained a cause for concern. In 2014, the Foundation partnered with AVIRO Health in developing Aviro, a flagship mobile health application.
A project perfectly suited to nurses, the Aviro ART Treatment Mentor is an app designed to help nurses in primary care settings to efficiently treat HIV patients. Nurses load the app, based on South African clinical guidelines, onto their mobile phones. It then enables them to determine whether a patient is eligible for ARV treatment, what drugs to use and when to start treatment. The app goes a step further by providing access to a referral system and the HIV hotline. Aviro provides real-time, immediate feedback and guidance for the clinician. This means excellent and reliable care can be delivered to every patient. Aviro calculates information which is essential for patient management plan, but is often missed in routine exams.
Further investments into the roll-out and testing of this application in rural and urban settings have been earmarked for the current funding year. The results will be reviewed and an expansion to national implementation is envisaged in the near future.
USING TECHNOLOGY TO ADDRESS EDUCATIONAL CHALLENGES
Intervention in education remains the core of the socio-economic development and investment strategy of the Foundation. The largest portion of its funding is allocated to initiatives in this field.
Typically, in developing countries, inequality in the education environment is obvious and many rural schools have limited resources, lack basic infrastructure and have over-burdened educators. All of this impacts on the quality of education and the opportunities provided to pupils. The MTN SA Foundation has continued to make a difference in this space by providing schools with fully-equipped ICT centres.
The most notable need currently is to equalise education for disabled persons in SA. In 2014, the Foundation invested more than R3 million in technology used to educate the disabled. These initiatives included installing an ICT laboratory in the Bosele School for the Blind and the Bartimea School for the Blind. In addition, a Braille production unit was established at the Optima College for the Blind, as well as an ICT centre at Temogo School for learners with mild to severe intellectual disabilities, and a community ICT centre for the disabled in Inanda, KwaZulu-Natal.
Foundation will continue engaging with, and is committed to investing in, communities in order to deliver on its mandate of uplifting them for self-reliance. Its commitment also looks to measures of socio-economic development successes that go beyond the rands spent, but emphasise sustainability. This can be realised if measures to address skills development and transfer are part of the DNA of the programme. Training therefore remains critical to the success of all the programmes.