Change the world

News

19/12/2018

Situated in the School of Information and Communication Technology, the CCT was established by Prof Greunen in 2014 and has grown exponentially in the past four years. From a team of one, it now has an internal team of 19 postgraduates and lecturers, and a full-time business analyst and project manager. Externally, the CCT subcontracts a team of 27 Mandela University IT graduates now working   as IT professionals in Port Elizabeth, which is fast gaining momentum as a “software city”.

The CCT’s agile, innovative solutions for a wide range of projects in the Eastern Cape, South Africa and several other African countries have attracted global partners, including Glasgow Caledonian University, and funding from global organisations, such as the European Union and UNICEF.

TB and GeoMapping One of a range of smart technologies currently being developed by the CCT is an app to assist the Department   of Health to better monitor and manage tuberculosis (TB) patients in the Nelson Mandela Bay Metro, and to curb the spread of TB. Once this app has been tried and tested, it can be made available to other regions, and adapted for the management of other diseases.

“The use of technologies in TB management is a top health priority for South Africa. At present there are no electronic health records in South Africa’s public sector to monitor and manage TB patients,” says Prof van Greunen. “The latest statistics from Stats SA cite TB as number one on the list of the 10 top causes of death in South Africa.”

Funded by the Discovery Foundation, the CCT named this project the “TB GeoMapping and eCompliance Solution”. It started in October 2017 and will be ready by the end of 2018. The CCT project team includes members of the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) who are working in the HIV/AIDS, STIs & TB (HAST) Research Programme; Professor Maggie Williams from Mandela University’s Faculty of Health Sciences, who specialises in clinical TB research; IBM Africa; and an Indian-based TB-focused non- profit organisation, Operation ASHA.

Patient information from the Department of Health’s TB patient record is entered, including the patient’s name, surname, ID number, phone number,address, gender, TB type, HIV status and infectious grading.

GeoMapping registers the GPS location of patients with drug-susceptible TB (DS-TB) in the Nelson Mandela Bay Metro using the built-in GPS capability of the phone, and heat maps are then generated to indicate where these patients are moving around in the community and beyond.

“With this information, healthcare professionals and healthcare workers (HCWs) cannot only manage each patient, they can identify and respond to TB hotspots in the metro, and focus their attention on these hotspots to help curb the spreading of TB, through health interventions and educational and awareness campaigns,” explains Prof van Greunen.

Community Health Workers (CHW) and community clinic nurses are critical to the success of this solution. It is envisaged that each CHW and community clinic nurse would have the GeoMapping solution on a mobile device and an eCompliance thumbprint-recognition device that records the date, time and location of their visit to the patient, or the patient’s visit to the clinic. The aim is to confirm that the patient has received their medication; the CHW, nurse and patient would be required to give their thumbprint on each visit.

Prof van Greunen adds that a mood recorder, which allows the user to record their mood, activity and what they have eaten, is also being created for this app. Patients with chronic diseases such as TB, cancer, HIV and diabetes often suffer from depression. By recording their mood and the food they have eaten that day, they can be helped to better manage their emotions and to understand which foods or drinks exacerbate their depression or feelings of unwellness. This information is made available in electronic report form for the CHW, doctor or nurse.

Adding to the TB management solution, IBM Africa is developing a wearable device for TB patients, probably in the form of a wristband. If two or more people with TB are in contact, it will track the duration of the contact, and flag the risk of inter-transferring different strains of TB. This will assist health professionals to improve their understanding of the TB history and evolution of each patient and community.

To inform people better about TB, the CCT has created a TB brochure in isiXhosa (the language most spoken in the Eastern Cape), which talks about the disease, how to identify the symptoms, and how early detection and treatment saves lives. It also explains what to do if you start experiencing TB symptoms or have been diagnosed with TB and where to get help and support, including contact details for TB healthcare centres. The brochure will also be available in digital format (audio and video).

The KaziBantu Project (In isiXhosa, KaziBantu means Active People)

The CCT is partnering Professor Cheryl Walter from the Department of Human Movement Science in the KaziBantu project in the Nelson Mandela Metro.

KaziBantu is the next stage of the Disease, Activity and Schoolchildren’s Health (DASH) study (2014–2017), led by Prof

Walter and Professor Uwe Pühse from the Department of Sport, Exercise and Health at the University of Basel in Switzerland. DASH focused on children’s health in poorly resourced schools and the effect of common infections and malnutrition on their growth and learning ability.

“Our research showed that children infected with worms and parasites and children who do not receive treatment or proper nutrition experience growth and learning problems, including stunting and lower attention levels. This is one of the issues we started addressing through DASH,” says Prof Walter.

“On the positive side, our research also showed that children who are active for 60 minutes or more a day, irrespective of their background, are happier, healthier children.”

Over 1000 Grade 4 learners in eight, no-fee schools in the Nelson Mandela Bay Metro participated in DASH. All the children live in overcrowded communities. One of the participating communities was originally built for 6000 people, but now there are over 40 000 people living there. The water and sanitation systems cannot cope, sewers frequently overflow, and infectious diseases are readily transmitted.

A range of recommended interventions was shared, including bi-annual deworming of the children, and providing low budget healthy meals in the place of cheap junk foods that are full of sugar and tartrazine. The master’s students on the project helped the teachers to introduce two physical education lessons a week, a dance and exercise class, as many of the schools don’t offer physical education.

DASH has since been scaled up into the Novartis Foundation- funded KaziBantu project, with interventions in the Nelson Mandela Metro across all grades, and it is also addressing teachers’ health and health risks. The Novartis Foundation is interested in the project being scaled up by the team for the rest of South Africa and other countries in Africa.

“Within this project we are contributing the ICT component, such as the development of the KaziKidz portal – an educational and instructional tool for primary school teachers,” Prof van Greunent explains. “It aims to enhance children’s overall health    in South African primary schools through a range of easy to use programmes, including physical fitness games, moving-to-music, and health, hygiene and nutrition education lessons. The aim is to encourage children to lead healthier lives through the fun content, games, activities and music.”

The CCT has also developed the KaziHealth app for the teachers at the participating schools, many of whom are suffering from stress-related issues and non-communicable diseases such as hypertension and diabetes.

“This app is a health promotion programme and self-management risk assessment tool,” Prof van Greunen explains. “All the teachers participating in KaziBantu are given a full physical examination by the biokineticists at Mandela University’s Biokinetics and Sport Science Centre, and the results are captured electronically.

“The teachers use the app to manage their risks by following the tips given on the app as well as engaging with apps that guide them in nutritional habits and physical activity, and managing stress. They also have face-to-face coaching sessions with members of the KaziBantu team.

“These apps all make use of gamification where people log up badges or trophies if they achieve certain targets. We are busy exploring different forms of encouragement that are shown to be motivating; it’s the ‘Vitality points’ type of approach,” says Prof van Greunen.

Afikile Sikwebu is the Educational Engagement Coordinator in the CCT.

He completed his BTech in Software Development at Nelson Mandela University and is currently registered for an MSc in Information Technology. This is an excerpt of the speech that he gave at the Mandela centenary celebrations: 

“Technology has transformed the landscape and the way we do things, from taking orders at online stores, to how we use our smart TVs at home, our manner of play (online games), and the way we communicate with faraway loved ones. While technology changes at an astronomical pace, technology acceptance and use at the lower public education level, especially in townships and rural areas, is on the opposite end, leaving our learners as late adopters of technology and always playing a catch-up role. This is not because these learners are not capable; it is because of a lack of access and exposure.

“To address this challenge, the CCT introduced a Learn to Code programme to teach primary school children in under resourced schools to code. We meet with about 200 learners every week, some of whom have never used a computer. We expose the learners to computers and teach them to use computers in ways that are relevant and beneficial for their future career prospects. The Xhosa saying, umthi ugotywa usemanzi (start them young) stands true, as our youngest learners are only 10 years old.

“The learners are also introduced to physical computing whereby they design, build and programme their ideas out of recycled materials and microcontrollers to promote creativity, algorithmic thinking, and design, problem solving and debugging, thus enhancing their STEM learning to include the arts. One example is the “Drone by Kite” project in which learners are challenged to build kites that are wide enough, strong enough, and light enough to carry a camera to take aerial videos. While some learners said it was impossible, others (mostly girls) have tried the idea and succeeded in carrying a cellphone on a kite, and taken footage with it!”

Contact information
Professor Darelle van Greunen
Director: Centre for Community Technologies
Tel: 27 41 504 2090
Darelle.vanGreunen@mandela.ac.za