Access to health care is a major issue in developing countries due to insufficient infrastructure and resources. Large hospital centers are often too remote, expensive, or inaccessible for the majority of citizens. Even in more developed countries, where resources are abundant, barriers to care still exist. Consequently, the majority of the world's population does not have access to modern medical technology.

In Somalia, East Africa, health care is especially lacking, and a new medical technology company called OGOW Health has been helping patients overcome these obstacles.

The company's founder, Khalid Hashi, came up with the idea for OGOW Health after identifying gaps in the Somali health care system. A dual citizen of Somalia and Canada, he designed and created an electronic medical records (EMR) system that allows physicians to access and update patient information more efficiently. 

Global Citizen spoke with Khalid Hashi about why he decided to create this innovative technology, his challenges, and his hopes for the future of health care in the region.

What made you want to push for equitable access to health care in Somalia?

Before COVID-19 struck, nearly 3.2 million Somalis lacked access to health services. The need for health systems that protect everyone has never been more urgent. COVID-19 is highlighting how the Somali health system is gravely unequal and how health care workers are vastly underequipped. Gaps in the system affect marginalized citizens the most while simultaneously reversing decades of progress on health and well-being. 

Somalia has some of the poorest health indicators in the world. According to UNICEF, every 8 in 100 children die before their first birthday and 1 in 8 before turning five. 

Our solution is supporting rural and urban health facilities in Somalia by digitizing medical records, promoting public health interventions, such as maternity health and infant mortality, increasing lifesaving immunization uptake, and providing easy to access and timely care and patient information to providers and caregivers to make informed decisions. 

Our beneficiaries range from adults, caregivers, children, and newborns, to frontline health workers, policymakers, and health care professionals operating in all tiers of the health system.

Importantly, our platform also supports NGO leaders, administrators, and government officials to access consolidated data on various health indicators for reporting and to better inform decision-making and future planning.

How did OGOW Health come about?

On a trip to my native Somalia, I was confronted by some of the everyday challenges Somalis endure when seeking health care. Helping my maternal grandmother undergo surgery, I witnessed the severe limitations of the analog scheduling and patient intake systems and the paper record-keeping in Somalia’s health care system. Although a well-known problem, I recognized that with some tech, entrepreneurial effort, and my inherent understanding of Somalia, its people and culture, I might be able to innovate a solution. 

After some research, design, sprinting, redesign, prototyping, testing, coaching, mentorship, luck, and grants, I reached an initial tool that was easily usable and effective, launching it first in World Vision clinics. Since that time, we’ve continued to iterate and expand our toolsets, gaining more traction with our partners. 

We have a diverse team that brings together public health, tech for good, business development, and private sector backgrounds — driven by a shared purpose of doing social good.

OGOW health has been recognized across Somalia and Canada for providing some of the most underserved communities with equitable access to health care. In 2020, I was honoured to be shortlisted for the Global Citizen Prize: Cisco Youth Leadership Award and was recognized by the Alberta Council for Global Cooperation on their “30 under 30” list, which features 30 exceptional recipients for their inspiring work [toward] “making the world a more just, fair, and sustainable place for all.” 

OGOW’s innovations were also selected as the Top Innovation at Somalia’s prestigious Somali International Award and were featured at Design Exchange, Canada’s Headquarters for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). I was also invited to speak at the Mogadishu Tech Summit, Somalia’s first-ever Technology and Innovation Summit, and I had the pleasure of being asked to mentor and judge the COVID-19 Hackathon with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).

How does OGOW Health help engage with local and rural communities to promote equitable health opportunities?

People often ask about our engagement strategies and how we successfully engaged local communities around the design and development of OGOW Health. 

The name OGOW Health is the Somali word for the verb “to know”. This serves as a constant reminder of how it all began and getting to “know” my grandmother over her medical appointments. We are a social enterprise, which means we recognized a big social problem and used entrepreneurship principles to create social change. Our ultimate aim is to ensure equitable health opportunities for all, especially those living in rural communities. 

We started by listening, to build with our intended end-users and not for them! As part of our co-design journey, we travelled across four representative regions in Somalia to conduct design research, promote meaningful engagement, greater social cohesion, and sustainable community lead-change. We worked with over 15,000 people, including mothers, caregivers, academics, practitioners, humanitarian agencies, and policy experts. With the support and frameworks of [global design and innovation company] IDEO and the [Bill & Melinda] Gates Foundation, we collected and translated all of the stories and feedback we gained, which allowed us to improve and refine our innovation.

Since our inception, the team at OGOW Health has improved the flow and accessibility of data not only to frontline workers but also to caregivers and humanitarian agencies in a context and setting that is highly fractured.

What can we learn from your program, and how can it potentially be relevant to other countries like Canada?

OGOW’s products are designed to improve patient access to records, enhance understanding and adherence to health care policies, and build patient trust in health systems through innovative and community-centric methods. Our system is available in desktop and mobile format and includes a caregiver interface for adherence to immunization schedules, basic health care and disease prevention educational videos, and a Q&A functionality, all in the Somali language.

Currently, we’re in Somalia. Our tools are designed for health care facilities and workers in hard-to-reach frontier markets. 
As we look to expand, we’ll focus on these types of markets, and ones in which our partners operate and are in need [of] solutions like ours.
We’re very proud to have been awarded funding by the Fund for Innovation and Transformation (FIT), the Intercouncil Network, and the Government of Canada through Global Affairs Canada to support our Innovative approach to improving maternal, newborn, and child health outcomes in Somalia. 

The funds will support us to further refine a powerful dashboard designed to help Community Health Workers, administrators, and government offices to access real-time, consolidated data on various health indicators, leading to more data-driven planning and decision-making aimed at achieving their desired health outcomes. Huge thanks to FIT, the Intercouncil Network, and the Government of Canada through Global Affairs Canada for their support of our lifesaving work in Somalia. 

What are you hoping to achieve in the future?

Our vision at OGOW Health, and one that I share, is a world where everyone has access to equitable and quality health care. I want to continue to innovate, scale, and do what we can to improve the lives of our beneficiaries and keep working in pursuit of our vision.

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