Mobile health lessons travel to West Africa

December 18, 2012 9:00 AM

Keith Brannon

Some of the lessons Tulane University learned in launching mobile health units and neighborhood clinics after Hurricane Katrina are finding their way across the globe.

Leah Berger

Leah Berger traveled to Senegal to share Tulane expertise in treating those without access to traditional clinics. (Photo by Paula Burch-Celentano)

Leah Berger, executive director in the Office of Community Affairs and Health Policy, traveled to Dakar, Senegal, recently to give workshops to public health officials in West Africa about the roles universities can take in building innovative healthcare models to reach those who don’t have access to traditional hospitals or clinics.

Berger spoke at ELES 4 Africa, a global conference dedicated to sharing new strategies and technologies for public health in Africa.

“Tulane has made so much progress in the past seven years using innovative tools to address health disparities,” Berger says. “The philosophy behind the work I do is not to isolate and protect these ideas, but rather to share these experiences so others can modify and duplicate them to help their own communities.”

Berger shared the successes Tulane had in opening its first neighborhood clinic and subsequent outreach through mobile clinics in areas where health facilities closed after the storm.

The disaster underscored the importance of bringing care directly to those who needed “rather than waiting for people to come into your doors,” she says.

Secondly, social media, text messaging and other mobile technologies are increasingly important to engage patients. Berger was surprised to see how health organizations even in rural areas of West Africa were using it for outreach.  

“Not everyone has a computer there, but the cell phone infrastructure is pretty amazing. So people are using their cell phones and social media to get their information,” Berger says. “So there was a lot of talk about how to use those devices and tools.”

One example is a clinic that uses Facebook and text messaging to schedule and update appointment information for patients who travel long distances to see a doctor, Berger says.

Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000 website@tulane.edu