Tuesday, March 22, 2016

In Azeez Butali’s native country of Nigeria, approximately 2,300 children under 5 years old die each day from preventable diseases and circumstances, totaling 840,000 deaths per year.

The leading cause is a lack of communication between mothers and doctors. With a ratio of one doctor to more than 2,000 children, communication can be overwhelming, and children rarely receive the checkups, routine immunizations, or follow-up visits after sickness or injury that would help them thrive.

“There’s pressure on the mother to survive, so taking the child for a normal checkup is not a priority,” said Butali, assistant professor of oral pathology, radiology, and medicine in the University of Iowa College of Dentistry.

To help bridge the gap between healthcare clinics and parents, Butali and Dr. Osayame Ekhaguere (a UI trained pediatrician) founded a nonprofit company called Healthcare Trends, which has developed a software system to allow clinics to remind mothers about their children’s appointments and healthcare in an efficient, affordable, and easy way.

With the help of UI Ventures in the UI Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Development, Butali has started a crowdfunding campaign to support the software’s further development called “Help My Pikin”—pikin being the Nigerian word for child. The money raised through the campaign will go toward lowering the cost of implementing and maintaining an app that uses the software in order to help more children in developing nations.

Butali’s goal is $10,000. More money raised means more children will be helped—and survive into adolescence and adulthood.

“No child born alive deserves to die,” Butali said.


With the help of the app, when a child is born, the hospital will collect information on the birth date, gender of the child, phone number, email address, and date of discharge. Then, the healthcare clinics will use texts and automated phone call notices to remind and encourage mothers to bring their children to the clinic for checkups, follow ups, and immunizations. The software system will manage notices and reminders for the staff via mobile devices used in the clinics.

“When I first talked with Dr. Butali after he was introduced to me by Brad Amendt- the Associate Dean for Research at the College of Dentistry, I could not see how this could work with so many small villages scattered around the countryside in Nigeria,” said Paul Dymerski, director of UI Ventures, who is helping Butali develop and market his idea. “But this approach can be surprisingly effective because 95 percent of the adults in Nigeria have cell phones.” 

Butali said the app’s software is similar to the kind used by U.S. businesses and hospitals to remind patients in the United States about appointments, but much more sophisticated. In addition to sending reminders for well check and immunization schedules, it allows physicians to store patient data, including as vital signs and milestones that can be plotted against standardized averages from the World Health Organization to ensure the child’s development is on target for his or her age.

“The app also sends messages to mothers on what to look out for in babies at two, four, six, eight, 10 and 12-18 weeks of life, what to do in certain emergencies, information about feeding, and how to prevent malnutrition and other health problems,” Butali said.

He added that messages can be sent in one of the three primary Nigerian languages as well as pidgin English, based on the mothers’ preferences.

“There are existing reminder services but they’re one-off and random and none in the country are geared toward all mothers who deliver at the hospitals,” he said. “This app is truly unique in this  regard.”

Although the success of the app is dependent on cellular and Internet connection in Nigeria, there are features that allow it to work even in spotty coverage areas.

“We have an offline mode that allows the doctors to store data when there is poor Internet connection,” Butali said. “There will be some limitations and we are constantly developing our app to meet and surmount the limitations.”

Healthcare Trends will begin its mission in Nigeria and then expand internationally. The hope is to reduce infant and under-5 mortality rates in all developing countries by administering vaccines and age-appropriate developmental screens to 90 to 95 percent of all children.

“If you imagine that 250,000 kids die every year from preventable diseases in Nigeria and many more throughout Africa, you then realize that there’s a big problem we all need to address,” Butali said. “One thing that is driving me is the need to save humanity.”

More information on the campaign is available at http://healthcaretrends.co/ and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/Help-My-Pikin-947438408643598/.

A video about the campaign may be viewed at https://vimeo.com/157658728/de45c61ab0

UI Ventures, part of the University of Iowa Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Development (OVPR&ED), offers information and resources to help companies find funding they qualify for, including federal grants, state funding, the UI commercialization GAP fund, loans, angel investment, and venture capital. For more information, visit http://uiventures.uiowa.edu/.

The Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Development provides resources and support to researchers and scholars at the University of Iowa and to businesses across Iowa with the goal of forging new frontiers of discovery and innovation and promoting a culture of creativity that benefits the campus, the state, and the world. More at http://research.uiowa.edu, and on Twitter: @DaretoDiscover.