In Kenya and Zambia, Sue and Brian share their passions for problem solving

January 10, 2022 by Monica Graham

At PATH’s Living Labs, Sue Wairimu and Brian Mushaukwa use human-centered design to help health workers develop solutions to on-the-job challenges.

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Sue Wairimu meets with Janet Rotich, a health worker at Kilifi County Hospital in Kenya, to gather her input on potential interventions. Photo: PATH/Faith Mbai.

Sue Wairimu has always been fascinated by design. She loves solving problems and starting from scratch to see a project all the way through. At first, these passions led her to a career in engineering. But today, as Design and Innovation Lead for PATH’s Living Labs team in Kenya, Sue uses her technical skills to help health workers solve on-the-job challenges.

“I love working side by side with people from all levels of the health system,” says Sue. “Together, we co-create impactful solutions to complex challenges. It’s very rewarding.”

Her recent projects include strengthening postpartum hemorrhage prevention and management, conducting usability and acceptability testing on a new biomarker for accurate and timely diagnosis of preeclampsia, and developing a digital accelerator kit to optimize critical feeding for newborns and improve decision- making around provision of care.

Sue Wairimu works with the Living Labs team in Kenya to test prototype forms for preeclampsia diagnosis. Photo: PATH/Brian Taliesin.

Sue Wairimu works with the Living Labs team in Kenya to test prototype forms for preeclampsia diagnosis. Photo: PATH/Brian Taliesin.

“I really like the consideration that before you begin anything, you sit and talk with the user, find out their needs and challenges, hear them out, and put yourself in their shoes. Empathy is an important part of our process.”
— Sue Wairimu, Design and Innovation Lead, PATH's Living Lab

Of her recent projects, Sue says the work to strengthen postpartum hemorrhage (PPH) interventions stands out as memorable. The project entailed introducing heat-stable carbetocin as an alternative to oxytocin for the treatment of PPH. Though oxytocin is effective, it relies on the cold chain, a system that can face issues in Kenya and other countries.

“We worked with several partners, and it was interesting to see what each brought to the table and how we collaborated. Plus, the work kicked off just before the COVID-19 pandemic and that created new challenges for design process.”

Sue’s work uses human-centered design—which relies on close interactions with health care workers and professionals. Because of COVID-19, she had to find a way to empathize with her partners in a completely virtual environment. “Working online was different, but we were able to find good solutions and practical steps that could be taken to improve PPH management.”

Employing smart processes in Zambia

Brian Mushaukwa, a Design and Innovation Specialist with PATH’s Zambia Living Lab, comes from a different background.

His career began in banking and finance, but he quickly noticed how often he was trying to enhance processes and products. This passion—coupled with a childhood diagnosis of a vaccine-preventable disease (measles)—fueled a career shift to health and a specialization in human-centered design.

One of Brian’s main projects focuses on the motivations of health workers. He is investigating the factors that affect health worker motivation and co-creating solutions to improve immunization service delivery. This project has introduced simple solutions to address challenges with transport, tracking health records across the district, workload, and documentation that engage health workers and improves their work and service experience.

Brian Mushaukwa displays the Living Labs Initiative materials to educate stakeholders on the projects in Zambia. Photo: PATH.

Brian Mushaukwa displays the Living Labs Initiative materials to educate stakeholders on the projects in Zambia. Photo: PATH.

“I hope to maximize the impact of immunization programs in Zambia to ensure no child is left behind.”
— Brian Mushaukwa, Design and Innovation Specialist, PATH's Living Lab

The work has not been without difficulty. Brian and his team have iterated on hundreds of innovations with health workers and are currently working with the provinces and Ministry of Health on taking the most promising ideas to scale to maximize impact.

“The work is difficult, but together, we are making real progress against vaccine-preventable diseases.”

Collaborating for better solutions

Sue and Brian make contributions to Living Labs projects in different ways at different times—depending on the stage of the project. For a design and innovation specialist, a typical day can involve time at health facilities; speaking with different stakeholders, such as health workers, members of the local community, and country health managers; and collating the vast amount of knowledge across the team.

As a project progresses, the team synthesizes their insights at the ideation stage with the users for brainstorming and concept development. Once the users prioritize a concept (or two), the Living Labs team rapidly prototypes the concept to test, learn, and gather additional input from the Ministry of Health on scalability and sustainability.

Partnership across the Kenya and Zambia teams is essential to their success. Sue, Brian, and their colleagues work on tools together, share ideas, and review interventions to see what is viable in their country context. Technology has played a key role, and the team uses tools such as massive online whiteboards, a concept catalog, and more. Through these tools, they are able to learn about each other’s work and reference the materials. The teams also hold learning sessions with ambassadors from other countries exploring Living Labs projects.

Collaboration across the countries has been driven by technology and transparency. “We use tools such as Miro for documentation and keep a very open line of communication across teams,” says Brian. “That has helped us share our learnings and enhance our efficiencies in designing innovative ideas.”

Learn more about Living Labs.