Gnucoop and mhealth - Malawi

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In rural areas, access to fast and accurate medical information can be an issue. This is particularly important in time of emergencies, such as during disease outbreaks or natural disasters, when timely information can save lives.

In 2012 in Malawi, Gnucoop staff has developed for COOPI (Cooperazione Internazionale) and UNICEF, an ODK mobile and web platform in order to support health operators from remote areas, in collecting and sending information about IMCI (Integrated Management of Childhood Illness) monitoring and drugs stock levels.

The system was developed in accordance to the guidelines established by the IMCI protocol, promoted by WHO. Six Health Surveillance Assistants (HSAs) in Salima District, in the central area of Malawi, were provided with Android smartphones equipped with the Open Data Kit (ODK) application. HSA were filling out specifically developed ODK forms, customised accordingly to the IMCI WHO algorithm, to provide basic care to children under 5 years of age affected by the most common diseases (i.e.: malaria, diarrhea, pneumonia, etc...). Following instructions and questions provided by the ODK forms, HSA were guided in performing child visits at village clinics. Therefore, the IMCI-smartphone application worked as a point of care supporting tool for the HSAs.

In addition to the point of care supporting function, this mhealth system provided also information and warnings about drugs stockouts and reminders about children needing follow up.

Lesson learnt

The system was implemented for a couple of years, under UNICEF and DIPECHO funds. After its implementation we learnt some key lessons that may be useful also to implement future projects:

technology is not the solution but it is a tool/mean that can help to achieve the set targets;

specific human resources should be dedicated by the implementing organisation to manage and monitor an mhealth (or ICT4D) project;

national authorities should be involved in all the phases of the project, from the design and data collection to the scaling up;

users' feedback needs to be collected in order to improve the system over time.

For more tips on mhealth projects, read the toolkit: