How Microsoft Power Apps can help in the fight against AIDS
It was 2.30am on a foggy Sunday morning and I had been sitting on a plane for the last hour…which was still on the runway in Birmingham. Feeling a bit grumpy and facing the best part of half a day in the air, it was important to remember the reason behind the long journey to East Africa.
You may have seen some recent coverage surrounding how Andrew Webster and I travelled to Uganda to deliver Microsoft PowerApps training to the Elizabeth Glaser Paediatric AIDS Foundation’s in-country teams. EGPAF provides treatment, raises awareness and conducts research with one goal in mind – to eliminate paediatric HIV and AIDS across the world.
Transparity were recommended by Microsoft for the project, and we were selected by the not-for-profit organisation due to our expertise with the Power Platform. They were also impressed by the way in which we put forward a summary of how the training would be delivered.
We were honoured to be selected to fly out and join the EGPAF team in Uganda, where we would get them started with some essential apps as well as show them how to create their own apps to increase collaboration and solve some of their very prominent challenges.
The training kicked off with a hack-a-thon, where we asked for examples of apps that the foundation needed so we could team up and work on them with the staff. However, there were so many and it quickly became apparent that we were going to have to whittle the list down to a maximum of four apps! The team collectively decided on the apps that would give various areas across the continent the maximum impact, solving a variety of challenges faced by the organisation. The four areas agreed were CaP-TB Sample Tracking, Patient Data Management, Treatment Tracker and Reporting.
CaP-TB Sample Tracking
One of the most crucial issues faced by the Foundation was the ability to track the whereabouts of blood samples and speed up the reporting process.
Previously, should a child come to one of EGPAF’s clinics showing signs of tuberculosis, the existing lead time on the blood test results can be up to two months! Not only will the blood degrade during this time, but there was no tracking data for where the sample was at any given time. Samples are delivered from site to site by motorcycle and the country’s communications infrastructure was often unreliable, so it was important for EGPAF to have a tracking solution which would work both on and offline.
We taught the team to use Microsoft PowerApps to write an app that would use a mobile phone camera to scan the existing barcodes for each sample. Where there were no barcodes, the app has been able to generate its own unique tracking number for the samples.
Then the clever bit – the app will push a notification to the EGPAF team when certain criteria is met, such as when it leaves the office or arrives at the testing facility. As long as there is a data connection, GPS will track the sample along its journey but should the signal falter, alerts would be pushed through as soon as connectivity is regained.
Importantly, the test results can be shared in a few clicks, meaning they don’t need to send a courier back with paper results, which really streamlines the process for the Foundation. It means that they now always know where samples are at all stages of the process, as well as have an insight into when they will receive the results of the blood tests.
The added benefit is that now this system is set up they can track virtually anything; for instance, the app can trigger alerts when medication have left one of the facilities and are on their way to a remote triage centre.
This marks a huge leap forward in the organisation’s ability to provide care and support. Historically, team members and the individuals they support would have no idea where test samples were or when they could expect results. Thanks to the app, EGPAF can now keep those in their care informed of progress, as well as providing the results sooner than ever before.
Patient Data Management
Another requirement for EGPAF was an app to securely store a plethora of patient data, including treatment plans for the children infected with HIV. The ability to download data to take offline was essential here; as previously mentioned, data connections can be unreliable and medical staff need to know everything about their patients no matter where they were in the country.
We developed an app named High Viral Load (unsuppressed). The app is incredibly thorough, allowing staff to drill down by area, then facility, then patient data. Staff can then update their notes once patients are seen or treated – even if there is no connectivity – with data pushed live once they are reconnected.
For both the medical team and the patient, accurate and up-to-date information is critical, especially when treating a disease as aggressive as HIV or AIDS. The app provides clinicians with invaluable insight to better treat the patient while allowing the care teams to deliver the best possible after care and support.
EGPAF needed a secure way of storing the diagnosis and medicinal plans data of both children and adult patients who are currently being treated (the Foundation will never turn away an adult who is also displaying symptoms).
The Treatment Tracker app that we developed is similar in functionality to the High Viral Load application but is used for any treatment plans that a patient has in place.
The team working on this app took a different approach to its development, concentrating on their data requirements and building out this fully before using the PowerApps app from data facility. This allows the team to build a quick functional app that they then customised to better suit the field workers’ processes and methods.
The flexibility afforded to the teams in the field is remarkable. The teams in the field now have an app they can develop and customise to meet their requirements and the needs of their patients, all without the need or cost of engaging with a third-party developer.
The Foundation already had a KPI reporting solution in place, but found it limiting and the mobile version restrictive. They needed something that could give rich insights into how staff were performing at a glance.
Within a day and a half, we had taken the framework from their existing solution and written M-Silver; a new app which enabled staff to generate, edit and save KPI reports for any facility within EGPAF, with the ability to drill down by country, region and facility. We were excited to see how the team took a working app then replicated and improved its functionality in just two days!
The ability to build on existing offerings is one of the reasons Power Apps is so powerful. EGPAF now has a tool that meets all of their reporting needs, not some of them, and it didn’t cost them a subscription or a developer fee.
Other ways in which Transparity helped
The apps built while Transparity were in Uganda would provide vital upgrades to the way in which the Foundation operated, but it was also essential to empower staff to be able to take this knowledge and create their own apps going forward.
Therefore, we delivered two different types of training. On the first day, we presented an “App in a Day” workshop in order to get the team comfortable with building the apps, followed by a hack-a-thon on the following three days using SharePoint Online as the data stores.
The hack-a-thon helped train the EGPAF team to build out use cases and write documentation for the apps, as well as giving them the knowledge of how to roll it out across different countries and combat poor data connections; something the Foundation was very keen to do to aid its vital work. We also incorporated some training techniques that Steve from EGPAF HQ brought along with him (well, it was actually his father’s knowledge from his days as a trainee doctor in the USA), of “See One, Do One, Share One”, that saw the team all educating each other.
We also covered Power Automate, which is an important part of the automation process. Teaching the staff about triggers, approvals and yes/no conditions meant that these actions can be coded in a matter of minutes now that they know the process.
A worthwhile cause
It’s undeniable that our time in Uganda meant so much to both Andrew and me, as well as the EGPAF staff. Their commitment to the cause is incredible and they collaborate with that one EGPAF goal in mind – to eliminate paediatric HIV and AIDS. And it’s not just in Uganda where the beneficial effects of these apps will be seen; they have been written with the ability to be rolled out to other countries too. Staff from across Africa – including Kenya, Tanzania, Cameroon, Conga and Côte d’Ivoire – all flew in to receive this training.
The moment the hack-a-thon began, we could see the enormous increase in confidence amongst this multi-national team, with people wanting to show and tell how their solutions worked, as well as the plans for each app going forward. It was incredible to see how they were even sharing feedback with each other about how they can tweak and improve the apps going forward.
Having been inspired by the amazing work that the team at EGPAF do, I began to wonder how I could support them further. While sitting in my hotel room in Uganda, a message popped up on Facebook, reminding me it was almost my birthday and suggesting that I might like to start a fundraiser. Without a second thought, I had shared she organisation’s story and set a £150 target in just a few minutes. I’ve been incredibly humbled by the generosity, with friends all over Facebook donating; not because of me, but because it’s a fantastic cause that they all want to support.
Not only was our trip to Uganda an incredibly rewarding experience for Andrew and me, but it was a real learning curve for us as well. It gives us an insight into what’s relevant and what we could focus on in the future. With an open invitation to come back, we can’t wait for the next one!
PS…You can also donate to my birthday fundraiser for EGPAF here.
With more than 30 years' experience in technology and IT, Mike is a highly-knowledgable Technical Consultant specialising in Microsoft Cloud solutions. With extensive expertise in Azure, Office 365, SharePoint and the Intelligent Cloud, Mike's professionalism and wealth of experience is a huge asset to Team Transparity.