NEC participates in Nutrition Improvement Project: What NEC's ICT can offer to protect the health of mothers and children in Ghana
Many pregnant women and new mothers do not have sufficient understanding about nutrition, so they are unable to raise healthy children. Malnutrition of children is a problem in developing countries, especially in African countries south of the Sahara Desert. NEC participated in a local nutrition improvement project to promote mothers behavior change by acquiring correct knowledge. What can we do with technologies from Japan?
"Visualization" and utilization of data to promote mothers behavior change
The project is being implemented in Ghana, where many children experience malnutrition during the weaning period from 6 months old, and about 30% of 2-year-olds suffer from developmental impairments. It is said that "the growth lost by the age of two cannot be recovered," so malnutrition of children in Ghana is a serious problem.
To address this problem, The Ajinomoto Foundation, which has been spearheading the Nutrition Improvement Project since 2009, has been providing support for the sale and distribution of nutritional supplements together with World Food Program (WFP) for two years from 2019.
NEC has recently joined to scale up the project with ICT technology.
Health checkup data will be visualized using an app developed by NEC. The app will be used to display graphs on a tablet to explain to mothers about the gap between their child's nutrition and what the ideal should be. The app also will provide nutrition education through videos.
It will manage the schedule and results of medical examinations, enabling staff at health centers to follow up on the right people at the right time. It will also provide an algorithm that determines appropriate assessments for each individual's health status in support of health checkups conducted by staff at health centers.
The purpose is to help mothers gain proper understanding of nutrition and encourage them to promote behavior change to properly take the nutrients necessary for the growth of the baby in their womb and their children.
Initially, around 60 tablets will be distributed to clinics in Ghana to support the monitoring and supervision of the health of mothers and children through the app.
Track record for on-site medical checkups in India: Leading to co-creation with international organizations
One of the reasons that led to NEC's joining the project was its experience in a similar project in Bihar, India.
The rapidly increasing number of people with diabetes has become a problem in India. In 2020, the state of Bihar and NEC conducted free medical checkups for 5,000 people. An app was used to communicate the results of diagnosis to residents and provide health guidance support.
Marie Mazuka, who is in charge of business for international organizations at NEC, introduced NEC's achievements in India during a discussion with the Japanese government on approaches to support health in Africa. The Japanese government and other stakeholders hoping to launch a private health care project in Ghana became interested in what NEC has done in India. This led to the idea of collaboration with The Ajinomoto Foundation, which has an ongoing nutritional supplement project in Ghana, and with Sysmex, which has also been working for many years to address anemia and malaria problems in the country.
"There are many stakeholders involved in this collaboration. We were unable to meet in person due to the COVID-19 pandemic, making it very difficult to build relationships, but the shared goal of improving health and nutrition in Ghana spurred us on," says Mazuka.
NEC offers the value of data utilization: Significance of participation from the rudimentary stage
Nobuyuki Yasukawa, who was the project leader of the field trial in India, has also joined the project to support Ghana. We asked him about the significance of NEC's participation.
"In India, maternal and child health was a national issue before it became rich, and diabetes became a problem. When we look back on the history and look into the future of any country, we see similarly structured health problems. There are solutions that need to be applied by addressing the problem not as specific to each country, but as a global one.
In India, there are many people who do not know how to use the weighing scale, for example, and many who eat their meals right before bedtime. By identifying these specific issues, we were able to deliver results in preventive medicine. Discussions are underway for a plan to increase the number of people in the field trial, which started with 5,000, to several hundred thousand people.
As the number of participants increases and the number of medical examinations per person increases, the richness of the data increases, leading to more effective health guidance practices and policies. Furthermore, the accumulation of long-term data will enable NEC's technologies, such as AI for predicting health conditions, to provide more value.
The stage of collecting data on site is in a way a rudimentary stage. Participation at this stage, however, makes a lot of sense in better understanding and maximizing the use of the data.
In Ghana, NEC can also provide even greater value when it comes to data utilization, which is the next step. I would like to move forward with discussions to expand the scale of the project. And, eventually, to help solve the world's health problems."