Safeguarding health data privacy for Kenyan citizens

09 Jul 2019

Kenyan Community Health Workers collect the health data of Kenyan citizens using a new mobile app called mJali to accelerate the detection and prevention of diseases in local communities. Safeguarding the privacy of personal health data was a challenge but supported by TNO’s RESPECT4U framework that approaches privacy from various angles, AMREF was able to develop mJali such that the data collected can be processed in a responsible way.

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Collecting health data to detect diseases in Kenyan local communities

Kenyan Community Health Workers visit members of the local community to regularly check on health issues using an app, called mJali, to replace the former paper-based approach. Not only is the digital collection of personal health data less dependent on weather conditions but it accelerates the detection of health issues, such as those stemming from polluted water resources. It is also more reliable and facilitates the timely processing of the collected data, which is key in preventing further spread of disease. However, safeguarding the collected health data of the Kenyan citizens was a challenge. TNO supports AMREF Kenya by offering its expertise on how to embed mJali in an environment that fully respects privacy. The TNO RESPECT4U framework provides technical, organisational and procedural measures that enable a comprehensive approach to processing sensitive health data.

Creating a trustworthy digital platform for processing sensitive health data

Health data are sensitive data. Having fast and reliable insight into the spread of, for instance, contagious diseases enables a quick and dedicated response that may prevent these diseases from spreading uncontrollably. Hygienic conditions can be detected by checking for the incidence of diarrhoea. If a water pool is polluted, this can be observed by comparing the health conditions of people living nearby the source of pollution. While these uses of health data are beneficial for the public at large, they are very sensitive by nature as well. Purposes of use, security measures, choice and consent issues, risk assessment and transparency approaches need to be combined to create a trustworthy digital health system.

AMREF platform based on TNO’s RESPECT4U framework to safeguard privacy

AMREF Kenya is anxious to comply with the legal obligations imposed by Kenyan and African laws as well as international privacy standards. TNO supports AMREF to meet these standards, and to have them embedded in the entire life cycle of the data processing that applies to the mJali project. The TNO support focuses on creating the proper organisational infrastructure, raising awareness for compliance with the privacy constraints and having organisational and technical measures in place.

Marc van Lieshout, project leader: “RESPECT4U integrates various relevant perspectives on processing personal health data. It offers guidelines and a set of tools that can be used to accommodate the processing of the personal health data in various domains.”

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