Meet the woman behind innovative mobile health app

Saturday January 3 2015

Seated behind her swamped office desk is Mrs Mary Matu, with her deep-blue coat strategically on her shoulders.

Seated behind her swamped office desk is Mrs Mary Matu, with her deep-blue coat strategically on her shoulders. PHOTO| FILE| NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By ELIZABETH MERAB
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Seated behind her swamped office desk is Mrs Mary Matu, with her deep-blue coat strategically on her shoulders.

The trophies on her desk are testament to her achievements since she embarked on maternal and child health programmes and on the wall, a portrait of her family hangs directly in the position of her eyes.

“Every time I look up, the first thing that meets my eyes is the family portrait which is where I draw my strength from,” she explains.

Mary is among those who have endeavoured to provide solutions to healthcare.  Her application, named ZiDi, collects primary data at the point of care in real-time with the aim of automating all maternal and child health information from around the country.

And her efforts have been recognised both within and outside the country, receiving six awards so far.

But Mary’s journey has been long and exciting, demanding from her hard work and sacrifice to be where she is today.

She says her desire to have a health system that recognised and catered for mothers and children is a dream she conceived after having children.

Having worked as an executive assistant with an international organisation after attaining her Master’s degree in public health policy and administration, she studied the gaps in the Kenya’s health sector and sought a solution.

“When I came back home from my studies abroad, I joined the USAid as an executive assistant. And with the background I had on family planning, I catered for 259 private delivery points in the country,” Mary explains.

However, when she was at the peak of her career, she had to take a break from her then high-profile job to nurture her two young sons.

“I gave birth to my two children in a span of less than two years. It was a difficult time for me and juggling between a demanding job and my sons was difficult. I had to give up my job.”

This was a dedication she diligently pursued for 10 years.

A LOT OF ATTENTION

“Children need a lot of attention especially at the age of three to 10. Whenever a parent has free time, they should spend it with their children. Let your child know you as you also know them,” says Mary.

After the 10 years, the mother of two decided to return to the job market. Only this time, she realised that so much had changed that she could not easily fit. It was then that she decided to pursue a different path.

“It was not easy to get a job. A lot of things had changed and so I chose to venture into entrepreneurship.”

With a background in the health sector, Mary started a company called Angelica Medical Supplies that purchased and supplied medical equipment to hospitals.

“While I was with USAid, I interacted mostly with women and children from different backgrounds and it was then that I realised that there are so many challenges that people in the rural areas face. If a hospital is well equipped, then delivery of medical services would become efficient. This is the gap I sought to bridge,” Mary asserts.

“I wanted to do something that was related to the medical field and also earn a living and that is how Microclinic Technology Ltd was birthed,” she offers.

In 2003, together with some foreign partners, MicroClinic Technologies donated their first medical equipment to Pumwani Maternity Hospital.

The partnership with foreign suppliers helped the company to subsidise the cost of reproductive health supplies and immunisation materials.

Having attained her goal with her first business and assured by her vast knowledge nine years later, Mary wanted to venture into something different. This time, she decided to contribute to the Ministry of Health’s six-year National e-health strategy. That’s how ZiDi was developed two years ago.

“The idea came after a business partner mentioned that there was no track of medical data. This meant that if, for example, a donor wanted to support the fight against malaria, there were no records to show what was lacking. There were gaps in forecasting and quantification of the pharmaceuticals too,” Mary says.

“We carried out research on the gaps in consolidating health records and realised that the biggest gaps were in rural health.”

After getting a proof of concept, ZiDi was registered through her company.

ZiDi, Mary says, is designed to ensure the quality of maternal and child healthcare by facilitating the diagnosis and treatment of common diseases that affect women and children.

“This application is able to monitor service utilisation and consumption of vaccines and all essential drugs and accurately forecast the potential demand for over 5,000 health facilities in Kenya,” Mary tells Lifestyle.

She adds that with the application, data is accessible via an online portal for efficient monitoring and evaluation of health facilities and decentralising decision making.

To manage the two companies, especially the application that would automate the health sector, Mary enrolled for a leadership course at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.

“This product needs somebody who can negotiate with governments and I decided to take a course in leadership,” she says.

Pilot projects have been running in Kisumu and Kiambu. But it has not been easy for the county governments to accept automation of health records.

“The transition to e-health in this country is so slow because all the policy and decision-making is done by the central government,” she says.

Mary has 30 employees. She has been recognised in the East African region for her efforts to automate the health systems, and with the recognition, Mary plans to sell ZiDi across the border.

ZiDi e-health Solution has also been approved by the Ministry of Health and endorsed by the Kenya Medical Supply Authority.