During the month of May, IMPACT will be highlighting USAID’s work in Global Health. From May 1-10, we will be featuring the role that Science, Technology & Innovation plays in Global Health.

The development field has been exploring for years ways to harness the power of technology to benefit those in need, especially mobile technology, which can reach people in remote areas who need food, health, education, and other assistance quickly and well.

A health worker refers to her mobile phone for information while making a house visit. Photo credit: World Vision

Health is an area in which the benefits of mobile technology are obvious. One initiative World Vision is especially proud of is our mobile health (mHealth) projects  in 13 countries. Our mHealth projects leverage the ubiquity of mobile phones to deliver information to, and receive information from, patients and caregivers and can address a broad range of scenarios, including announcements, targeted messages, appointment reminders, medical records for patients, treatment reminders, training and tools for front line health workers and volunteers. Key mHealth principles that have been integrated into current and planned projects include: 1. Align closely with Ministries of Health and their partners; 2. Work in partnership with other funders, developers, and implementers to build on and add to global learning; 3. Design to meet the needs of local users but also provide the basis for maturing the evidence base; 4. Be initially affordable yet based on sustainable costing models and scalable technology; 5. Be respectful of data governance issues; 6. Utilize and strengthen government and partner information systems; 7. Emphasize coherence and quality of approach and program/project management; and 8. Favor open source solutions and emerging global standards.

To support mHealth, World Vision has strategically partnered with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Grameen Foundation, and Dimagi to create and deploy a World Vision version of the Gates-funded MOTECH Suite (MTS), a sustainable, scalable, open source mobile solution. MTS provides a set of capabilities encompassing five key functional mHealth areas: Behavior Change & Demand Generation, Managing Patient Data, Improving Worker Performance, Last-Mile Supply Chain, and Patient Adherence. This partnership allows World Vision’s funded mHealth projects to utilize a common, yet customizable, field-tested mHealth tool.

MTS was piloted in World Vision’s Afghanistan mHealth project (USAID-funded Child Survival Health program 2008-2013), and the evaluation results are encouraging:

  • significant improvement between intervention and control groups in any antenatal attendance (20 percent),
  • skilled delivery at a health facility (22.3 percent),
  • having a birth plan that included improved coordination with the health facility (12.6 percent),
  • saved money and arranged transport (12.9 percent)
  • knowledge of two or more pregnancy danger signs (12.9 percent).

A volunteer health worker refers to her mobile phone for information while making a house visit. Photo credit: World Vision

In World Vision’s Mozambique mHealth project (Gates-funded Grand Challenges 2010-2012), MTS research results indicated that pregnant women in the project’s intervention area had a higher likelihood of accessing antenatal care, prepare better for birth, and have their births assisted by a skilled provider. They were also more likely than those in the control group to know about signs of pregnancy complications and to seek care at a facility for that complication.

The advantages of the shared framework of MTS are numerous, from minimizing software development, operations, and support costs, to making available the source code, best practices, learning, and other assets to the global community to avoid duplication, and ultimately, save more lives. As World Vision rolls out MTS in additional countries and regions, we’ll analyze the complexity and economics of this versus other models, the interface with national Ministries of Health systems, impact, and sustainability.

Deployments of WV’s global version of MTS have begun in Sierra Leone, Uganda, and Zambia, with others to follow in Tanzania, Sri Lanka and India by this August. World Vision aims to increase geographical mHealth reach within these countries while enhancing MTS functionality at the community level. The focus is on creation of a solution that is globally deployable, meeting at least 80 percent of functionality needs for each project, and further customizable for each context. A key characteristic of this effort is collaboration with Ministries of Health and intentional efforts to forge public-private partnership agreements with mobile network operators and other potential private sector partners. This model has already effected notable reductions in duplication of effort and overall costs at the global level, as well as for each project.

Initiatives like MTS are the way forward for NGOs to impact the global health field, including reducing incidence of malaria, improving maternal and child health, and improving child nutrition. Read more about World Vision’s mHealth projects.

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