Benguerir develops e-health and promotes youth employability

Patients waiting to make an appointment in the emergency department of Benguerir

This article is a collaboration between the Journalism and Media Lab (Jamlab), ASToN and Civic Tech Innovation Network (CTIN).

Benguerir is a Moroccan city of 100,000 inhabitants, in the central region of Morocco (260 kilometres from Rabat). Benguerir is the site of one of the biggest transformations in the country. Thanks to public investments in the urban project of “The Green City” and its university, the Mohammed VI Polytechnic University (UM6P), this city is now on the world map of research and innovation.

The rapid transformation meant that the local population could benefit from the digital opportunities through the improvement of public services. In 2019, Benguerir joined a network of 11 African cities developing leading and innovative digital projects to transform in an inclusive and sustainable way: the African Smart Town Network (ASToN). This project aims to assist cities in their digital transition, through peer learning and sharing, over a period of 3.5 years, between 2019 and 2022. Within this framework, Benguerir chose to focus on the “citizen engagement/digital divide” component. After several consultations, the local team opted for the development of an e-health solution. How can the city reduce this digital divide and improve citizen engagement in the health sector? What measures will be put in place to achieve this?

The first findings

Benguerir is a small traditional city which positions itself as a centre of technological innovation and excellence. Since 2009, urban development has resulted in the creation of “a social divide between the ‘Green City’ and the older, poorer part of the city with fewer opportunities. Unemployment, which affects young people, is also accompanied by a digital divide,” according to the Moroccan project team.

The city has an unemployment rate of 40%, high levels of poverty and emigration trends to larger urban centres, particularly Marrakech. Bridging the socio-economic gap between the two parts of the city is now the priority of local decision-makers. These findings are the starting point for Benguerir to bridge the digital divide. Partnerships have been formed at local level, including public-private partnerships to bridge the digital divide.

The approach of the project is not limited to supplying digital infrastructure. “Access to digital technology in the city is not simply something that can be solved by installing digital equipment or by specific training,” according to the Moroccan team.

The teams in charge of implementing this project in Benguerir are aware of the magnitude of this challenge. For this reason, they are determined to act in a holistic manner. Two objectives are in view: digital capacity building and using digital leverage to participate in the local economy. Through these types of initiatives, the public authorities hope to fill the training gap and help improve the employability of the city’s young people on the job market. The local health sector was selected for this project.

The ambitions of an e-health application

“We started in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic to reflect on the solutions that technology can bring to the lives of citizens. The health sector was mentioned many times by the various stakeholders,” explains Hajjaj Moussaid, vice-president of the Benguerir municipality. The analysis of the health sector revealed issues of access to this basic social service and communication problems between medical staff and users of this service, resulting in a public hospital under pressure.

In order to meet these needs, “the local team proposed the development of a mobile application that will improve the scheduling of appointments at the hospital, as well as the digitisation of patients’ medical records by medical staff, in order to make consultations more fluid,” says Mounia Diaa Lahlou, Development Director at the Société d’aménagement et de développement vert (SADV), the entity in charge of implementing the ASToN project in Morocco. This solution is based on the computerised system for making appointments at national level.

This e-health solution will improve communication between the hospital and the local population, through notifications of cancelled appointments or the release of new consultation slots. “The implementation of the application will rely on community relays in the city and its outlying districts. The objective is twofold: to improve the use of the application and to create job opportunities for the city’s young people by creating a new profession of community relays who accompany users,” according to Moussaid.These relays would potentially be self-employed in the medical sector, offering basic medical services and advice on patient follow-up.

This ASToN project in Morocco is currently in its third phase. “A survey is currently being carried out to gather as many indicators and needs as possible to prepare the design of the application. Subsequently, we will select a technical service provider through a public tender. This phase will involve obtaining an authorisation from the National Commission for Personal Data (CNDP),” explains Moussaid.

The challenges of the project

For the Moroccan team, the ASToN project strengthened the participatory approach in local management: “We worked as a team with the governor, SADV, community and patient associations, as well as the provincial health department in several workshops. The experience was very beneficial for us as a Moroccan city, as we had the chance to share experiences from other African cities. ASToN’s technical support included working methods for introducing digital approaches into public management,” says Moussaid. Mouna Diaa Lahlou of SDAV agrees: “This experience taught us to approach local issues with great humility. These problems require simple and digital solutions, without large budgets. We need to work in a participatory way”.

For more information about ASToN work, visit the website.

Written by Salaheddine Lemaizi

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ASToN Network

ASToN network brings 11 African cities together to develop digital practices in order to create sustainable & inclusive cities.