At first glance, IBMer Beju Ekperigin’s day-job may not seem related to cervical cancer. However, this proved untrue during her time as a part of IBM’s Corporate Service Corps team in June.
Launched in 2008, the Corporate Service Corps is a global IBM initiative that sends hundreds of IBM employees into emerging markets every year. The volunteers work with small businesses, non-profits, non-governmental organizations, and educational institutions to solve a specific problem on a pro-bono basis, donating their expertise and professional skills to help improve local conditions and foster job creation. IBM’s Corporate Service Corps considers Africa a key continent for its work.
A recent Corporate Service Corps team, made up of ten IBM employees total from six different countries, spent four weeks volunteering their skills in Kenya. Ekperigin was part of a three person team developing an approach to collect data on cervical cancer screening and treatment in Kenya.
Cervical cancer is the second most common cancer and the most common cause of cancer related deaths among Kenyan women. Though the disease is easily detectable and curable, only about 3 percent of Kenyan women between the ages of 18 – 69 have had cervical cancer screenings in any 3 year period.
The Kenya Ministry of Health aims to raise that number of screenings to 70 percent within the next five years. However, given that patient records are not easily shared between health care providers, it is difficult to track trends or encourage screening.
Ekperigin works in New York City as a part of the Strategy and Change Internal Practice (SCIP) in IBM’s Global Business Services unit. Surprisingly, her work in Kenya was very in line with her professional skills, Ekperigin said.
“(It was a) very similar approach to what we would do for a consulting engagement either for IBM or IBM clients,” she said. “The difference was that it was a completely new domain for me – I’ve never worked in public health.”
It turns out that it doesn’t matter whether an organization is in the insurance or transportation industry, sits in the public or private sector, or is trying to becoming more efficient or offer more sophisticated services. Ekperigin was able to take the same fundamental analytical and systematic strategies she normally provides to her clients, and apply it to Kenya’s health system.
Working with the Kenya Ministry of Health, Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon and PEPFAR, the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, the team began by visiting a sample of different hospitals, clinics and medical providers, mapping out the data flow of cervical cancer screenings to identify information gaps.
Ekperigin and the other IBM volunteers found that there was a lack of data collection standards as well as a lack of information flow between screening facilities and treatment referral facilities and also between facilities and the national (ministry) level.
To respond to these issues they recommended short-term, mid-term and long-term strategies to meet the Ministry’s data collection goals.
The short term goal is to standardize the paper system that is in the early stages of implementation, creating national reporting standards to be established for cervical cancer screening and treatment. This also includes training clinicians in the importance of accurate and standardized data collection, training new staff and standardizing this training.
The medium term goal is to make this data-collection process electronic. This will reduce data quality issues and simplify the summary and analysis process. IBM suggested that the country use its District Health Information Software to capture and analyze the cervical cancer data that is collected in Kenya.
“Kenya’s long term vision is to be able to have an integrated health system,” Ekperigin said. “They’ve already developed a relatively mature data collection system for HIV, but they want to be able to track patients across systems.”
In this vein, IBM recommended that the Government of Kenya use its existing HIV care and treatment network, which is extensive, to refer patients for cervical cancer testing.
By implementing Electronic Medical Record (EMR) systems that are flexible enough to add new data captured for new program areas (HIV, TB, malaria, cervical cancer, etc.) it will be possible to monitor cross-program patient flow and accurately track cervical cancer screening and treatment in Kenya.
Certainly the Kenya team worked hard consulting with key stakeholders to develop a recommendation for a new cervical cancer screening tracking system. For Ekperigin, volunteering her time was a no-brainer – not only because it combined her love of travel and experiencing different cultures, but also because she was able to make a difference using her professional skills, she said.
“I know that Kenya definitely has its challenges, but it’s a beautiful country,” she said. “There’s a lot of potential.”