Wednesday, July 14, 2004

UW lecturer to bring tech gift to Uganda AIDS clinic

By Katherine Sather
Seattle Times staff reporter



Today, he's heading back to Edith.

Former Microsoft executive Frank Schott will visit Africa, and Edith Mukisa, to finish a high-tech volunteer project that's grown close to his heart.

Since leaving Microsoft in 2001, the University of Washington lecturer has traveled to developing countries around the globe, helping equip nonprofit groups with technology. He took on Mukisa's project a year ago, while she attended the UW on a fellowship.

The 41-year-old Ugandan had applied for a UW grant to outfit her teen AIDS clinic in Uganda with software to help track patients. Schott helped Mukisa get the $10,000 grant, and he was so inspired by her work that he has led a volunteer effort to help the clinic grow.

Now he's returning to Uganda to finish installing software he developed along with several local organizations that aim to help nonprofits access technology.

"If you don't start using new tools to tackle age-old problems, the problems just perpetuate themselves," Schott said. "These solutions can make a difference."

Mukisa exemplifies the rewards of his work, he said. He has become a close friend and mentor to her and her family.

"She's a contagious person, very happy," he said. "She can describe what she's doing in such vivid, graphic terms that you say 'Wow, I want to work with this person.' "

In 1994, Mukisa started the Naguru Teenage Information and Health Centre in Kampala, Uganda, a country recognized for its success fighting AIDS. An estimated 25 million people are living with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, but its prevalence is declining in Uganda, in part because of the country's educational efforts.

Mukisa's clinic promotes a motto known as the ABCs: "Abstinence, Be Faithful, and Condoms." During his first visit to the clinic, Schott was humbled to see young people lining up at 8 a.m. and packing into a tiny waiting room to receive counseling, medical treatment and contraceptives.

"You see this clinic and the people it's treating and there's no way you could say no to help," he said.

Until recently, staff members screened each patient at the door, jotting down their demographics and medical history on sheets of paper later stuffed into filing cabinets. Schott and a team of volunteers created software that allows staffers and doctors to access these records on a computer. This allows for faster work and time to treat more patients.

The clinic sees more than 12,000 patients a year, Schott said.

The software helps compile statistical data that will be used to create outreach programs in local schools. It also will be useful in helping the clinic expand, Schott said, because donors like to see evidence of productivity and need.

"The question donors would have is 'How do I know you can support more patients?' " he said.

Schott recruited volunteers through the UW's Daniel J. Evans School of Public Affairs, which gave Mukisa her grant, as well as the Marc Lindenberg Center for Humanitarian Action, International Development and Global Citizenship.

Lindenberg, former dean of the Evans School who died in 2002 at the age of 56, helped establish a nonprofit in Seattle called NPower that helps outfit other nonprofits with technology. Frank Ordway, a volunteer with the organization, helped set up computers at the Uganda clinic last year.

Volunteers Ted Palsson and Teresa Hennig, of the Pacific Northwest Access Developers Group, designed the software program. All but Palsson will travel to Uganda next week. Because he won't be making the trip, Palsson created a discreet button on the software program that will link clinic staffers to a page with his biography. It reads: "I'm proud to serve you this application."

"This represents the best of what the Northwest has to offer," said Elaine Chang, director of the Marc Lindenberg Center. "A combination of expertise in information technology and compassion. All it takes is something to bring that together."

Schott became involved in this type of volunteer work in 1999 while working for Microsoft in Paris. He led a team that created a database for refugees in Kosovo that helped them obtain new identity cards and find missing family members.

"Once people have access to these tools, they can do amazing things with them," Schott said. "The software solutions we saw in the last 20 years work pretty well ... you can take these database tools and count on them in the most remote places in the world."

He has other projects on his plate, too. In cooperation with Microsoft and the Red Cross, Schott recently opened a Community Technology Learning Center in St. Petersburg, Russia, to serve refugees from Afghanistan and Africa as well as people with disabilities. He plans to open another center in Africa.

Seeing countries benefit from technology is one of the rewards of his work. He and his team will share their work in Uganda with other nonprofits.

"This becomes superinteresting when other countries adopt what Uganda's done," he said. "There's not money to be made here. The cool thing, the biggest ego boost, is to see these solutions spread."

Katherine Sather 206-464-2752 or ksather@seattletimes.com

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