HealthGames Kenya

Offering a contemporary approach to health education …

As at October 2018

Young people staring at their mobile phone screens, silently typing and swiping, instead of interacting with their neighbour. This common sight often comes with a negative connotation, but on 11th October 2017 in Nairobi, the situation is very different.

It is the pilot kick-off event for HealthGames Kenya, a series of social, online, interactive games developed to improve awareness, knowledge and behaviour regarding health issues. Nearly a hundred students of the Kenya Institute of Mass Communication are gathered around the HealthGames information stand, interacting cheerfully and lively. What they are engaged in is a game called “Your Choice, Your Future”, a quiz on sexual and reproductive health. Players create an account on the mobile platform and start quizzing individually but can also compete with others. Not only do they enjoy learning by gaming, simultaneously their knowledge is measured over time and tracked by means of an index in order to provide targeted learning content.

Introducing alternative health education methods in Kenya could help prevent conditions that highly affect Kenyans, such as non-communicable diseases (NCDs). Globally, over 14 million people between the ages of 30 and 70 die each year from NCDs like cardiovascular diseases or diabetes. In Kenya, NCDs contribute to 40% of all hospitals deaths today. Education on these topics is crucial as it is estimated that up to two thirds of premature deaths are linked to exposure to risk factors, namely tobacco and alcohol use, unhealthy diet and physical inactivity (World Heath Organisation, 2015). Secondly, certain social and religious barriers to an open dialogue about other, more delicate health topics, such as sexually transmitted diseases, exist. “We found that there’s a lack of access to credible information”, says Yasmin Chandani of John Snow, Inc. (JSI), a public health management consulting and research organisation based in the United States of America. According to Chandani, Manager of the JSI Kenya office and Project Director of inSupply, “there needs to be a bigger initiative that young people can turn to that is fun and safe.” Hence, Kenya’s youth needs a space where they can safely and privately learn about health, including its taboo topics.

JSI and SNTL Publishing, a German software company with a focus on web-based knowledge management in science, technology and medicine, joined forces to create this space during the lab of tomorrow, a project of Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH run on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). Its fifth innovation process focused on the “Prevention and control of NCDs in Kenya” and the team around HealthGames used SNTL’s multiplayer, web-based quiz platform for self-organized mobile learning, yeepa ®, while drawing on JSI’s experience in capacity building across a range of public health topics. The GIZ project “Support of the Health Sector” in Kenya under the leadership of Heide Richter-Airijoki also contributed expertise, management support and valuable key contacts in the Kenyan health sector. HealthGames is not only an outstanding example of match making done right, it is also the first business idea that has successfully gone through the whole lab of tomorrow process, including the test and pilot phase.

… that resonates with the Kenyan youth

The pilot phase consisted of eleven small launches at youth centres or universities in Kenya over the course of eight weeks. In October and November 2017, HealthGames reached a total of 1,010 youth with a mean age of 24 and a fairly even split between genders. Gamers stayed up-to-date via a Facebook page and had the chance to receive weekly prizes. In each game, multiple-choice questions that vary in levels of difficulty were asked repeatedly. Perception questions with no right or wrong answer, such as “How many alcoholic beverages do you consume during the week?”, were also included to receive rapid, first-person data on public health issues. A total of 244,436 items were played during the eight weeks. Recalling the many scenes of students gaming, especially „Your Life, Your Future“, Malte Glatthaar, who was present for the pilot phase in Kenya on behalf of the lab of tomorrow, says: “When I saw the intensity and the level of interest, I thought ‘This is a way to reach people who grow up in households where topics like sexuality and contraception are taboos.’” Some of the students even took notes and later stated “I realized that I didn’t know about all contraceptive methods and how to obtain them. This was really interesting!”. This sentiment was supported by the overall results of the pilot phase, which show that young people are willing to learn using yeepa. The tool was found to be effective in educating youth – a rising yeepa index, which indicates knowledge acquisition, showed that consistent gamers answered more questions correctly over time.

Learning with a medium that youth utilize every day – their smartphones. In the face of digitalization, where already 86% of Kenyans use the internet and about 44% a smartphone, Leopold Reif, Consultant at SNTL Publishing, sees the device as “a millionfold disruptive and enlightening tool for education”. It enables people to spend time on health education privately; that they want to spend time on it is undeniably linked to the fun that comes with gaming. A pilot phase highlight was the competition ‘Flash Games’ which united two very different groups of people. Organized for GIZ’s focus on NCDs, GIZ professionals in Germany competed against the top players in Kenya on the occasion of World Diabetes Day, playing the game “Healthy Lifestyles”. The ‘Flash Games’ showed that this platform can be fitted to each organisation’s requirements and also allows the organisation of large scale knowledge tournaments.

Knowledge measurement has a variety of benefits for modern education, such as identifying gaps in capacity building and subsequent intervention based on facts. “So far, there is only insufficient impact measurement in capacity building”, says Leopold Reif. Referring to education, he continues: “Old methods, so-called ‘legacy systems’, are not scalable. We actually do have the reach and access, using the same methods as PISA (programme for international student assessment), and we do measure impact.” Malte Glatthaar agrees: „The idea reflects the zeitgeist. Important actors in politics and economy should definitely remain open to digitalisation.“ Regarding the future of HealthGames, the dream of a pan-African health education observatory, „HealthGames Africa“, is mentioned and a partnership with universities and other actors would be very expedient. Any form of integration into the Kenyan education system can only be considered a long-term goal, according to Yasmin Chandani. However, the team continues working together in Kenya and already has joint projects planned in Liberia for the near future.


Watch the video of the Flash Games on World Diabetes Day 2017 during which students in Nairobi proofed their knowledge against GIZ employees in Eschborn, Germany.

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