All posts by Alex Kellerstrass

Five Investments Countries Can Make for Healthier People and Economies

mPowering’s work focuses on helping to build strong health workforces, and health systems, by building collaborative systems to connect health workers to the training and information they need. A recent article by Pape Gaye, CEO of IntraHealth International, explored some important aspects of how countries and stakeholders can focus efforts to respond to the global health workforce crisis. The article resonated with our team, and is cross-posted below with permission from IntraHealth’s Vital blog.


By pooling our resources and know-how, we can help solve the health workforce crisis—and build stronger economies.

There is a crisis in our global health workforce. A looming shortage of 18 million skilled workers stands between us and the promise of universal health coverage—and the economies it could help stimulate.

But how do we recruit more smart, capable workers to this field around the world? How do we make the most of the health workers we have? And how can countries build the fit-for-purpose workforces they need to foster healthy, productive populations, which are a must for economic growth?

I spend every day thinking about these questions and looking for answers in the countries where IntraHealth International works.

These problems are too big for the public sector alone.

For years, global health and development have been the domains of aid workers and the public sector, of governments and nongovernmental agencies, all working with limited resources to solve huge problems in the midst of other huge problems—meeting the need for new hospitals and health centers in the remotest regions, for example, while also struggling to bring much-needed electricity and roads to them.

These problems are too big for the public sector alone. We need new stakeholders, and an all-new architecture for working together—not only for greater global good, but for greater economic well-being, as well.

As I sat with my fellow speakers on stage at The Economist’s Innovating Economies summit in Nairobi this month, I was inspired by the collective potential we have to tackle problems in new ways—together. Take Google, for instance. The company wants to do more business in Africa, but recognizes the need for a stronger foundation there to do that—consistent access to good roads, reliable power, clean water.

These are problems public-sector players have been dealing with for decades.

So why not solve these problems together? By pooling our resources and know-how with businesses and creating thriving mixed markets for health care, we can help solve the health workforce crisis and help countries build stronger populations and economies.

I have a few ideas for how we can work together to get there:

Better data use.

We in global health and development collect a lot of data, but we have a lot to learn about how to best use them. By harnessing the data we have, we can help close the gap between the need for and availability of health workers in many countries.

In Kenya, for example, there’s a tremendous opportunity for all stakeholders—from the Ministry of Health and USAID to private-sector partners such as Procter & Gamble and Microsoft—to come together and put powerful health workforce data to use. Those data could help the public sector develop county-by-county strategies, tailoring each region’s workforce to its population’s needs and ensuring a steady pipeline of health supplies.

Stronger education and training institutions.

Aspiring health workers need access to education that is high-quality and within their financial reach. Programs such as the Afya Elimu Fund, a low-interest student loan program, are making this possible for Kenya’s health workforce and presenting ample opportunities for partnership.

The fund was established in 2013 with the US Agency for International Development through IntraHealth’s FUNZOKenya project, and is a joint venture of IntraHealth, the Higher Education Loans Board, the Kenya Healthcare Federation, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Education, and the Ministry of Planning and Devolution, and private-sector contributors.

To date, it has received more than US$5 million from various organizations and funded over 9,000 students to become health workers. The fund aims to raise the number to 20,000 by 2018.

A focus on primary health care.

When it comes to building our health workforces, we should focus not only on specialized cadres, but also on the generalists on the front lines of care. Universal health coverage will never happen without the nurses, midwives, community health workers, and others who provide primary health care and essential live-saving services every day. We should invest in building both public and private networks of health workers and mixed markets that maximize impact and minimize out-of-pocket payments, especially for the poorest.

Tap into the diaspora.

During West Africa’s Ebola crisis, we saw people from all over the globe with ancestral roots in that region raise their hands and say, ‘I want to help.’ As Yvonne Mburu, CEO of Med in Africa, pointed out at the summit, there’s a great desire among the diaspora to get involved in improving health care, and great potential for sharing expertise.

Establishing sustainable mechanisms that allow the diaspora to help not only during emergencies but, for example, through short-term assignments wherein they can work shoulder-to-shoulder with their counterparts in low-income countries could help build relationships and greater expertise among local health workers and officials.

Policies that pave the way for collaboration.

We need to work with the private sector to help create a policy environment that makes it easier for them to be involved in global health and development in substantial ways—beyond writing checks. The public sector can no longer afford to treat private-sector health care providers as “the competition.” Policies need to reflect the complementary natures of public and private health care services.

Our health workforce crisis will not go away on its own. The global demand for health care will only continue to rise as populations grow—and get older. And as African economies mature, more leaders are looking to health as a powerful investment, not just in well-being, but in their economic development.

The problem remains a global one. Now we must find the global willingness and resources to solve it.

Launch of WASH Domain on ORB!

Today, mPowering Frontline Health Workers is launching a new domain on ORB featuring free, mobile-ready, WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) training materials for health workers.

According to WHO and The Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health, every year, there are nearly 1.7 billion cases of diarrheal disease, causing about 760,000 child deaths. An estimated 10-15% of maternal deaths are due to infections linked to unhygienic conditions during labor and poor hygiene practices during the six week postpartum period.


Handwashing is the single most cost-effective intervention to prevent pneumonia and diarrhea in children and reduces infections during pregnancy and childbirth.

ORB’s WASH materials provide training and information surrounding waste management, urban water supply, sanitation planning, environmental health and a variety of other key issues related to WASH. All materials on ORB are quality assured to be accurate, relevant for health workers, and usable on mobile devices.

If your organization has WASH content that meets ORB’s criteria, we invite you to share that content on the ORB platform. Visit to download and share mobile-ready, openly-licensed WASH training materials today!


Photo by Kate Holt/Jhpiego

What we’re reading: mHIFA’s Assessment of mHealth Applications Report

mPowering’s work has been featured in mHIFA’s latest report, titled Assessment of mHealth applications for their potential to provide essential healthcare information for citizens in low resource settings.

This report assessed mobile apps based on significance of the health problem addressed, appropriateness of the content and technology for target audiences, value of information, ease of information assimilation (is the info presented in an easy to understand way?), app availability (is it free and/or available across several regions/countries?), and technological accessibility of the app (is the interface simple, does it work on a basic/feature phone, is it free to the user?).

The report credits ORB’s progress toward making training materials increasingly accessible and effective for health worker training. OppiaMobile was highlighted for “making the app development process much easier to devolve to national or regional bodies to ensure apps are tailored to local needs.” mPowering has used OppiaMobile to deliver content in collaborative training programs in Nigeria, Ethiopia, Zambia, and more.

Additionally, mPowering’s Open Deliver approach is mentioned as a useful method for “combining existing, open-source technologies into an integrated process for app design, content modification/production, deployment to mobiles, and usage monitoring”

Other programs and technologies reviewed include The Safe Delivery App, videos from Medical Aid Films, the Red Cross First Aid app, Mobile Kunji, Health Phone and others. This assessment is a useful tool for programs seeking guidance for applying mobile tools to their training. You can read the report here!

HIFA (Health Information for All) is a trusted social network aiming to improve access to healthcare information in many of the countries within which mPowering works. mHIFA (mobile HIFA), seeks to expand mobile access of healthcare information.


mPowering at the Global Digital Health Forum

mPowering Frontline Health Workers is pleased to participate in this year’s Global Digital Health Forum. The mPowering team will be participating in several sessions and events covering our work in mobile training, shared content, and more.

Join us for the Mobile Content Distribution for Health Worker Training session, which will focus on mPowering’s end-to-end content delivery method: Open Deliver. You’ll learn from case studies and experience examples of integrating digital content and tools into health worker training. This session will take place on Wednesday, December 14 at 1:15 PM.

In addition to mPowering’s session, hear from our team in these sessions:

We’re also looking forward to launching a new piece of research at the Forum – Scale the Technology Now is a new White Paper supported by Qualcomm Wireless Reach. Be sure to follow @mPoweringHealth on Twitter for more news on that paper, as well as live updates on these and other #GDHF2016 events!

Zika Domain Launches on ORB

Today, mPowering Frontline Health Workers is announcing a new health area – Zika virus- on its ORB platform. ORB now hosts mobile-friendly materials to support training for frontline health workers on Zika.


The ORB platform connects trainers and frontline health workers to mobile-ready training resources. For content developers, ORB delivers content to a large audience of trainers, implementers, and health workers.


New Zika content on ORB covers tools and resources that health workers can use to learn new information, refresh their skills, and counsel patients who have suspected or confirmed cases of Zika. Some examples of content on ORB include:



We will continue to add to the Zika domain as new materials become available. If you have Zika-related training materials to share on ORB, please visit and click on ‘add resource’ for submission guidelines and instructions. For ideas on how to integrate ORB content into training programs, please click here or contact us at


Content review for these materials was provided by the USAID Maternal and Child Survival Program (MCSP); and content was identified from mPowering’s call for content, as well as MCSP’s Zika Landscape Analysis. For community engagement and communication materials related to Zika, visit the Zika Communication Network here.