Unicef has tapped Aricent’s frog design to help lead a major mobile health initiative to improve prenatal and postnatal care of women and infants in areas of Malawi and rural Zambia.
The first solution to come out of the mobile health initiative, RemindMi, uses text messages to alert community health workers when the infants of HIV-positive mothers need to be tested for HIV, says Unicef spokeswoman Erica Kochi. National laboratories then use SMS to transmit the results of those tests to healthcare workers through its Results160 project.
The initiative, dubbed Project Mwana, aims to increase mothers’ visits to clinics by 25 percent by January 2012. Frog design is working on a pro-bono basis for the project.
The project came about to address the needs of children born to HIV-positive women. Those children can’t be tested for the disease until six weeks after birth because they carry their mother’s antibodies. After that six-week window, it is imperative they be quickly tested for the disease so treatment can begin, if necessary. Community healthcare workers collect samples from affected children and send them to national labs for testing, but there are only two such labs in the whole of Zambia, and just one in Malawi, and getting the results back takes an average of three to four months, Kochi says.
Kochi estimates frog design’s SMS alert solution has cut the average turnaround time for the HIV tests by more than half, and says local healthcare workers have found the technology “very useful for day-to-day work.” In the 10 weeks the Results160 project has been active, Unicef has delivered more than 800 results to rural communities in northern Zambia. The project is currently being rolled out in rural Malawi.
Local governments have been supportive of the initiative, which is part of Unicef’s larger goal to reduce infant and maternal mortality in rural areas of African with high rates of HIV/AIDS. Kochi says Unicef and its partners, including frog design, have been asked by Zambia’s Ministry of Health to come up with recommendations to scale the system on a national level over the next two years. Unicef is working with African carriers MTN and Zain on rates for the high volumes of SMS messages that will be used for the program if it reaches national scale.
Frog design specializes in bringing concepts to market, from collapsible Tupperware containers to the standalone personal television for Qualcomm’s Flo TV. Robert Fabricant, vice president of creative at frog design, helped head frog’s involvement in Project Mwana and is also leading a related anti-HIV/AIDS campaign in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa, called Project Masiluleke. Fabricant says the company developed Project Mwana as a patient-centric model suited to the limited wireless infrastructure in Malawi and Zambia.
“This project is about people, not technology. It’s about understanding behavior, learning about emerging needs and ways in which mobile technology is playing a role in addressing those needs and providing links that didn’t exist before,” Fabricant says. “Our team that’s down there right now isn’t there to stare at mobile phones. They’re there to talk to people and understand how things fit within that context.”
Frog’s involvement in Project Mwana is part of Aricent’s newly launched Mobile Mandate initiative, a multi-year effort to use mobile technology for what the company calls “social innovation projects” in areas such as health, education, energy and economic well-being.
Frog design is also partnering with Movirtu, a for-profit business that helps provide basic, low-cost access to handsets for poor, rural communities in sub-Sahara Africa and South Asia. Frog design President Doreen Lorenzo says access to low-cost cell phones in those regions can help communities launch small businesses. The company’s Mobile Mandate project is also supporting research into the impact of mobile money services in Afghanistan.