Edmonton app wins grant to help improve health-care access in Somalia

Khalid Hashi has received $10,000 from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

'My grandmother didn’t have her medical records and I knew many others didn’t as well'

Khalid Hashi took his first trip to Somalia in 2017. The visit inspired a new award-winning idea to improve healthcare record-keeping. (Khalid Hashi)

An Edmonton app has received a $10,000 grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to improve infant vaccination coverage in Somalia.

The grant was announced this week, a year after the founder Khalid Hashi began designing OGOW EMR, an app that stores health-care records electronically.

The electronic medical record system will allow hospitals and caregivers to track information digitally in a country where doctors typically work without electronic documentation.

According a 2015 World Health Organization report, health indicators in Somalia are among the lowest in the world and the immunization rate for measles is only 46 per cent. (Globally, 85 per cent of infants get the first dose of measles vaccine, still short of the 95 per cent needed to prevent outbreaks.)

"We knew right off the bat that it had to be accessible in Somali and we knew it had to be very user-friendly," Hashi told CBC's Radio Active

Hospitals in the country often lack the resources to consistently track sensitive medical information, Hashi said. 

The Ogow app is designed to have simple user-interface for caregivers and doctors in Somalia to use. (Ogow/Instagram)

The electronic medical record system was designed to be used either online or offline on a tablet. It is for both doctors and at-home caregivers, since family members play a large role in health-care delivery, particularly with vaccines. 

The app is currently in a pilot phase. The grant money will provide an opportunity to expand access, track vaccination schedules and monitor which areas of the country have lower vaccination rates.

Hashi's idea was one of five selected for funding in the Empowering Caregivers in Immunization Innovation Challenge.

Ogow means 'to know'

Hashi said he first thought of the concept for OGOW when he visited Somalia for the first time in 2017.

He travelled there to see his grandmother while she was in and out of hospitals for eye surgery and follow-up treatments. 

He said he spent the majority of his time at the hospital and realized that doctors were communicating all of her medical information in conversation, without any paperwork documenting the procedures.

"I was born and raised in Canada so I just did not imagine that my grandmother's records were nowhere to be found," he said. 

"When I was there, my mind was just racing. My grandmother didn't have her medical records and I knew many others didn't as well."

Back in Edmonton, Hashi started visiting hospitals to learn more about the Canadian model and started a fundraising campaign to develop the app.

OGOW, the Somali word for the verb "to know," grew from concept to reality within months as Hashi connected with doctors and government agencies in Somalia via social media. 

Hashi, who works with the organization Habitat for Humanity, was familiar with the world of non-governmental organizations but had no previous background in medical care or tech development.

"It was a no-brainer that when I identified a need to fill this void, we would go ahead and at least attempt to do it," he said.

"I just really thought something could be done here, and to be honest I didn't know how to address it in the beginning, but that's when I started using my social media platform to put the call to action.

"Influential Somali artists, all sorts of professionals were reposting the story and it went viral."

Somalia tech summit

A fundraising campaign raised $6,000 in seed money. Hashi said the concept's popularity on social media led him to make connections with doctors, professors and government staff in Somalia.

Last October he was invited to present his app at a tech summit in the country. The trip allowed him to connect with medical staff who are testing it.

He also got to see his grandmother again, and said she is now in much better health.

Two hospitals are currently testing OGOW EMR, one in Mogadishu, the capital, and the other in the southern coastal city of Kismayo.

Hashi has launched a second fundraising campaign to raise more money. He said he is continuing to apply for grants as he works toward an official launch.