Nina Salusalu works on her backyard garden, which she started with guidance from the My Kana smartphone app. Credit: Ivamere Nataro/IPS.
By Ivamere Nataro
Aug 24 2021 (IPS)
A smartphone app in Fiji is helping users to not only eat better but to help grow food that will contribute to a more nutritious diet.
An initiative of the University of the South Pacific and the Ministry of Health (MoH), the My Kana app was launched in 2017 to help address the growing prevalence of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in Fiji and the South Pacific.
NCDs, mainly diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, cancers and respiratory diseases, accounted for 80 percent of all deaths in Fiji in 2015, an MoH report found. In 2018 the country recorded the world’s highest death rate from diabetes, with 188 fatalities per 100,000 people, according to the Asia Pacific Report.
NCDs, mainly diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, cancers and respiratory diseases, accounted for 80 percent of all deaths in Fiji in 2015. In 2018 the country recorded the world’s highest death rate from diabetes, with 188 fatalities per 100,000 people
But there is hope that the My Kana app will help make a difference. It has two components — My Meals and My Garden. My Meals allows participants to record and visualize their meals so that they can monitor what they eat and drink, and know whether their meals are balanced and healthy. They can also select ingredients, many local to the Pacific, to create recipes.
To date the app, which is free for users in the Pacific, has about 500 active users, says the country’s senior nutritionist at the MoH, Alvina Deo. My Kana also has a social media presence on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, where followers are 60 percent female. This is possibly because of women’s interest in backyard gardening and also their concern for their family’s diets, Deo said in an interview.
My Garden guides users on starting and maintaining a home garden, depending on the season, and how to record the growing process.
Adi Kelera is a happy My Kana user. “I have been able to monitor my water intake, which is something I don’t normally do,” she said, adding, “the data reflection of what I eat has motivated me to take my home exercise routine more passionately, especially in maintaining my weight and size goal.”
Kelera admits that Covid-19 restrictions have affected her lifestyle and her daily training schedule, like many other people. “The pandemic has somehow sidetracked many people from maintaining a healthy lifestyle, and before they know it, they become obese and start developing non-communicable diseases.”
However, she continues using the app, especially the food selfie option. “The app gives me an estimate amount of calories, fat and protein in my food. I find this really helpful and informative at the same time.”
Kelera reckons the app can be improved. “I think that there should a notification to remind users to stay on track and an automated plan for when they log in their details.” But she said she would recommend My Kana to her family and friends because it is user friendly.
Nina Salusalu uses the app not only to track her diet plan, but followed its guidance to start a home garden. She was able to harvest tomatoes, cabbage and beans, using containers and buckets. “I don’t have much land space to carry out home gardening, but that didn’t stop me from growing vegetables. I really appreciate this app, especially during this pandemic.”
Salusalu thinks that more people should know about My Kana. “I feel there are still smartphone users out there who are not aware of the app and they need to be educated about it as Fiji needs to tackle the issue of NCDs.”
About 817,425 Fijians, or 95 percent of the population, have access to mobile internet connectivity across 3G, 4G and 4G+ networks.
NCDs and the pandemic have both put pressure on Fiji’s already overwhelmed health resources. Covid-19 only makes health problems worse, as people with pre-existing medical conditions, including NCDs, are more likely to succumb to the virus.
The first wave of Covid-19 in 2020 saw a huge uptake on the use of My Kana app, Deo said. That is when the My Garden component was developed. “The My Kana garden component aimed to empower Fiji’s population and other South Pacific Islanders to grow our own vegetables, fruits and crops, and eat healthy,” she said.
“Through the My Kana garden component all our health facilities are encouraged to establish gardens to promote healthy eating and serve as models,” added Deo.
She noted that My Kana will also help to address the lack of NCD statistics in Fiji and the Pacific, and contribute to research in the region. “The My Kana App can contribute to food and nutrition security indicators of national development that is inclusive and sustainable, and will improve the lives and livelihood of vulnerable populations.”
Pre-Covid, the app was promoted through continuous community trainings. But with pandemic restrictions, this is now taking place on social media platforms, where followers are continuously reminded to use the app to make healthy choices.