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How mobile apps make an impact in Uganda and elsewhere

Innovation

Carol-Mart Palm’s first mission for PUM brought him to Uganda. Increasing the number of patients for Mbarara Community Hospital by 45%, he realised his idea to use a mobile app for communication with locals has the potential to overcome other challenges as well.

A passion for health-care

Originally a law graduate, Carol-Mart had enjoyed a rich career in management, marketing and communication. But after his father had become seriously ill his focus started to shift. Carol-Mart started to work in the field of health-care, allowing him to combine his keen interest in new technology with his broad educational and occupational background. 

While preparing his first PUM mission to Uganda Carol-Mart did some research, he also spoke to Tim van Heukelom, a specialist in mobile marketing. He was able to advise Carol-Mart on technologies and solutions he could utilize: “without obligation”, Tim stresses, because he “likes helping out”.

‘Using video makes communication so much more efficient, because there is immediate contact’

The Malaria and HIV app

Using mobile technology in Uganda was logical: after all, the mobile infrastructure is very well developed – 4G networks are widespread – and almost every Ugandan owns a smartphone. Why not use these realities for the problem at hand? Carol-Mart, supported by Tim and the Mbarara Community Hospital, introduced an app that would help people to identify symptoms for HIV and Malaria – the two killer diseases – and encourage them to seek medical help. The app consists of videos showing Ugandans, speaking about their symptoms and experiences, users are being asked questions that give them access to knowledge about the diseases, but also advise to take action. “Using video makes communication so much more efficient, there is immediate contact.” says Carol-Mart.
 

Promoting this innovative app via conventional channels (like ads on the radio) was very expensive. Hospital staff, which was under threat of losing their jobs because of underutilisation, called people personally and invited them to join seminars as well as free treatment.  Local church communities and companies co-hosted these events. That is how this outreach programme became a big success, increasing the number of patients for Mbarara Community Hospital by 45% and securing its financial survival, even stability. The brand awareness of the hospital was considerably improved; consequentially people went there not only for the killer diseases, but also for other medical needs.

Commercial implications

The latter was crucial: treatment for the killer diseases is free in Uganda, it is being paid for by the state. The hospital could not have achieved financial health just by treating Malaria and HIV, it was dependent on other patients as well. Financial considerations played a crucial role throughout this mission. After all, developing and advertising an app costs money. Financing the Malaria and HIV app was a common effort between the Mbarara Community Hospital and PUM’s Hans Blankert Fonds, which gave a grant to this project.

‘Thanks to Carol-Mart's and Tim's creativity and ingenuity one idea after the other is born’

Mobile solutions for all

Carol-Mart: “We started with a marketing app and kept developing it, knowing that these countries have skipped the PC and landline phone era: this used to be perceived as backwardness, but it now proves to be an advantage; people jumped directly into a vivid mobile culture.” Thanks to Carol-Mart’s and Tim’s creativity and ingenuity one idea after the other is born. One of their favourite projects is the app that serves as an electronic patient dossier. This would improve the quality of health-care and reduce cost considerably, certainly in countries where everything is still being done on paper and manually. But there are many more possibilities to use mobile solutions in the health sector, it is a technology with the potential to make a difference in Holland as well…


Carol-Mart Palm (66), a commercial manager who has occupied national and international management positions, has been active for PUM since 2016. Carol-Mart is best described as hands-on, result-focused and challenged by innovative, complex and groundbreaking environments. For PUM, he visited Uganda and Tanzania, and is currently preparing for a mission in Colombia.

Tim van Heukelom is a specialist in mobile marketing and experienced in the marketing and communications business. 

Text: Sylvia Szely