Via Devex YouTube channel

Community health workers and midwives are usually the first to detect if something’s wrong with a baby’s heartbeat or if a mother is having high blood pressure and needs immediate medical attention.

But in many communities across the world, especially isolated rural areas, they don’t always have the right tools or have adequate training in using available health care equipment.

Philips is trying to address these two problems by coming up with an outreach kit that contains a set of portable health care tools community health workers and midwives can use in their work, including a mini lantern powered by solar that can also be used as a phone charger. All of the equipment can be carried in just one specially designed backpack.

The backpack has been developed as part of Philips’ Community Life Center, which acts as an innovation hub aimed at comprehensively addressing health care needs in a community.

The items in the bag can be customized, depending on the need on the ground. A community health worker for example can use a bag that contains Philips’ pulse oximeter that measures a child’s blood oxygen levels, a blood pressure and heart rate monitor, and a portable ear thermometer. A midwife meanwhile can opt for a bag with additional equipment, such as a portable ultrasound and a wind-up fetal doppler to check on a baby’s heart rate. He or she can also choose a separate bag containing an equipment that combines all these functions.

Philips is also providing training for community health workers and midwives on how to use the tools in its backpacks, including how to clean and maintain them. The health and IT company is fully aware of the importance of training when introducing a new product, especially in low-resource settings where target users are not accustomed to new technologies. Lack of adequate training can lead to poor uptakes, leaving an equipment unutilized. The company is looking at the possibility of training local electricians who can service the equipment once it goes out of warranty.

“Because the truth is we’re not everywhere and we have to give people in the community the opportunity to use our products,” said Caroline Kyalo, research scientist at Philips Research Africa.

But the backpack has another purpose, Kyalo said.

“The health care work is meant to come together with the economic impact. So we’re looking at achieving both with this [backpack in which] we are able to improve the health of the community but also able to empower the community health volunteer to earn something in the process,” she told Devex.

However, there are no concrete details yet on how exactly to achieve that aim.

Philips is looking at government bulk purchases for the backpacks. There are also a number of nongovernmental organizations that have expressed interest in it, Kyalo said.

Devex recently visited Kenya as part of our Making Markets Work campaign with The Abraaj Group, Philips and PSI.

Making Markets Work is an online conversation to explore what’s being done to make global health care markets accessible to people at the base of the pyramid. Over 10 weeks, we will amplify the discussion around effective health financing, analyze key challenges blocking universal market access in the health care supply chain, and explore the key strategies to make markets more effective. Join us as we look at this important issue, and share your thoughts by tagging #MakingMarketsWork and @Devex.

About the author

  • Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.