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Rapid Prototyping Goes “Up Country” with MoTeCH

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Ghana Health MOTECH
Posted on October 18, 2009

Kirsten Gagnaire is Project Manager, MoTech, Grameen Foundation Ghana.

Since the beginning, the Mobile Technology for Community Health (MoTech) team has been focusing on using rapid prototyping for figuring out what will – and won’t – work in the rural environment.  A week ago, the team headed to the poorest region in Ghana – the Upper East (UER) – to set up a series of exercises to determine whether pregnant mothers would be interested in asking questions about their pregnancy and newborn care via mobile phones. We were wanted to understand what types of questions they were interested in having answered, and what the technical (mobile phone usage, SMS vs. voice, network issues) aspects of providing this service to parents in rural areas would be. 

Based on work she had done for Grameen’s AppLab in Uganda, Jessica Osborn set up 3 teams of fields workers made up mostly of local health volunteers and staff, and a “hotline” for answering questions that was staffed by Ghana Health Service clinicians.  The field teams spent 3 days going out to various villages with mobile phones containing SIM cards from different carriers.  Once in a village, they spoke with women about what they were doing and went about getting them to ask questions.  Before long, women were lined up asking questions about everything from “why do I feel like I want to vomit all the time?” to “my baby nurses and then seems like his tummy hurts, why does this happen?”.

All in all, the testing was a great success and we learned a LOT about everything from the need for maternal & newborn information, the types of information people were interested in, and the technicalities of providing this information via mobile phones.

Some of the key learning’s were:

  1. There is a serious lack of information about basic maternal & newborn issues and people were very happy to have a place they can ask questions and receive helpful responses
  2. Most households have a phone – often kept by the man or first wife – but information can get passed along to the mother via these intermediaries
  3. Everyone preferred to call in via voice vs. sending an SMS
  4. Network accessibility was a major issue.  We need to have the service available on all networks, as there is no one carrier that has full coverage in the area.  In a village near the Burkina Faso border, calls bumped to Burkina’s network, causing them to end up being an international call.
  5. It rained hard one night, which caused the networks to be down most of the following day so even things like weather will affect the efficacy of the service.

The week provided great learnings and the MoTech team is already hard at work integrating the information to ensure we address the key issues in our next iteration of work.

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