HKI Visionaries: Mohamed Turay

HKI has become a global leader in the rapidly growing field of mHealth—the use of mobile and wireless technologies to provide and support health services—thanks in large part to the skills, innovation and commitment of Mohamed Turay.

Born and raised in Sierra Leone, Turay joined HKI in 2011 as a 17-year-old student intern. He looked at the opportunity to work for an organization like HKI as a dream come true. “I wanted to do something to help the most vulnerable in society,” he says.

Within eight months, the tech-savvy Turay was granted his first contract as an IT assistant. A year later he became an IT officer focusing on the potential of mHealth. At the time, mobile monitoring technology “was new to everyone,” he says. “I accepted the challenge, taking the time to explore it and see how it could be of use for HKI.” He began incorporating mHealth systems into field activities, and by 2014 he had become HKI’s IT coordinator. 

The defining moment of his young career was undoubtedly his inspiring response and unwavering dedication during the frightening Ebola crisis that swept through West Africa—including Sierra Leone—in 2014. With chaos unfolding and many people fleeing, he did not hesitate to stay and help. “During the crisis the lives of the vulnerable were exposed,” he says. “They were the ones most affected, especially women and children. I stayed because of the passion and love I have for my country.”

At the height of the epidemic, during one sleepless, 72-hour stretch, Turay painstakingly programmed software for the innovative mobile platform that would track new outbreaks of the lethal disease, as well as monitor disease surveillance and effectively quarantine at-risk households. With this technology, says Turay, “the quarantine staff could use GPS coordinates to locate an affected household, go there to get a listing of all people in the household, get the information onto the command center’s dashboard, and then get food and security in place in the quarantined household within 24 hours.” Considering that the previous response time was 48-72 hours (and the longer it took to secure a household, the greater the odds of further transmission), this was a vast improvement.

The platform he helped to develop was soon incorporated into Sierra Leone’s larger emergency efforts—helping to facilitate a more rapid and effective response for containing the disease, and ultimately putting the country on track to eliminate Ebola altogether.

In 2016, mHealth technology is being applied to HKI field activities across a wider range of health interventions, such as monitoring the mass distribution of medicines to prevent and treat neglected tropical diseases, and logging feedback from remote interviews with mothers and caregivers on the distribution of vitamin A capsules and vaccines for their babies. Turay has also used the technology to facilitate surveys of health workers to ensure programs are responsive to local needs. 

Looking back at the Ebola epidemic, Turay says the most rewarding part was seeing the program work the way he imagined it to. “We saved thousands of lives,” Turay said, smiling from ear to ear.  

As HKI’s operations in Sierra Leone return to normal, Turay is most looking forward to working with the Ministry of Health in broadening the use of mHealth technology for remote supervision of health units throughout the country.