In the West African country of Mali, skin conditions such as leprosy, psoriasis and eczema are widespread – some studies put estimates at 30%. And yet, specialist skin doctors are scarce, meaning that sufferers must wait months to access adequate medical care, if they are able to access it at all. Some patients become so desperate, they turn to alternative treatments, in many cases making their symptoms worse.
But now, thanks to "Bogou", an app designed by a Mali developer, and the Pierre Fabre foundation, which promotes the use of new technologies to improve diagnosis and treatment of skin diseases in Africa, patients experiencing skin conditions like the ones listed above can be treated by Mali’s few and in-demand dermatologists (according to studies, the landlocked country only has one dermatologist per million people), often just a day after being referred by their GPs.
Professor Ousmane Faye, head of the dermatology department of the National Centre for Disease Control in Mali’s capital of Bamako, says this new technology is well-suited to remote diagnosis in his field, as dermatology is based on observation by the human eye. Using a secure platform protected with a password, general practitioners in remote, rural areas (where the app pilot programme is taking place) send the professor images of their patients’ skin complaints. On his computer or mobile phone, Professor Faye can then confirm the doctor’s diagnosis or offer advice.
The professor recalls the recent case of a patient from the Koulikoro Region in western Mali who suffered from hypochromia lesions Distressed by the appearance of the disorder, the patient turned to herbal remedies, which made the condition worse. However, once Professor Faye received pictures through Bogou from the patient’s GP, he was able to offer the correct diagnosis and treatment.
According to the Pierre Fabre foundation, which is financing the programme, the results have been "solid" with 175 complex cases diagnosed remotely. Up until now, 20 doctors and nurses have been trained with the goal of extending the service throughout Mali over the next two years, and, eventually, other African countries. The foundation will initially focus on reaching the most disadvantaged and remote areas that have access to internet.
"There is a triple benefit: time, money and training" for the doctors out in the field, believes Professor Faye.