evidence-based blog of Filippo Dibari

Mobile phone technologies to improve the prevention and treatment of malnutrition?

In Under-nutrition on August 23, 2012 at 8:56 am

Source: Rapid SMS – http://www.rapidsms.org/

In 2011, WHO reports:

The use of mobile and wireless technologies to support the achievement of health objectives (mHealth) has the potential to transform the face of health service delivery across the globe.

A powerful combination of factors is driving this change. These include rapid advances in mobile technologies and applications, a rise in new opportunities for the integration of mobile health into existing eHealth services, and the continued growth in coverage of mobile cellular networks.” (download the entire doc)

(To learn more about m-Health, read this paper from the WHO Bulletin: Point of care in your pocket: a research agenda for the field of m-health)

The same WHO document mentions a wide range of  applications, but regretfully does not include the treatment or the prevention of malnutrition, although the potential is there. These are few examples:

  • In Kenya, in 2009, the Millennium Villages Project and the Columbia University looked into the use of SMS to support the community-based management of acute malnutrition in children under five. The pilot study concludes that “an
 SMS
 based
 approach,
 using
 a
 system
 like
 ChildCount,
 can
 lead
 to
 improved
 maintenance
 of
 child‐specific
 anthropometric 
records
, which 

effectively 
help in 
monitoring 
a 
community’s
 health”
 (see the entire doc)
  • In Malawi, more recently, “UNICEF deployed SMS to address serious constraints within the national Integrated Nutrition and Food Security Surveillance (INFSS) System, which was facing slow data transmission, incomplete and poor quality data sets, high operational costs and low levels of stakeholder ownership.  Health workers now enter a child’s data, and through an innovative feedback loop system, Rapid SMS instantly alerts field monitors of their patients’ nutritional status. Automated basic diagnostic tests are now identifying more children with moderate malnutrition who were previously falling through the cracks.  This system also increased local ownership of the larger surveillance program through two-way information exchange.  Operational costs for the Rapid SMS system are significantly less than the current data collection system. The Government of Malawi is considering a national scale-up later this year” (read more here)
  • In the last 2 years, the same organization (Rapid SMS) has successfully piloted in Ethiopia a RUTF stock reporting and request system. This has the potential for improving the communications of stock levels and requests up the supply chain and consequently for avoiding supply breaks (more info here at page 42, and here)
  • WFP focuses on the prevention and treatment of moderate acute malnutrition and has also been involved with innovations using cash/vouchers and SMS for monitoring the implementation of programmes and for monitoring cases of malnutrition (read more at page 24 of this document)
  •  In 2011, UNICEF and Valid International undertook a “Global Mapping Review of Community-based Management of Acute Malnutrition” (with a focus on Severe Acute Malnutrition). In countries of interest, the same document suggests a review of innovative technologies to improve information flow to national level. Those include the use of Rapid SMS to improve timeliness and quality of reporting.  “Many countries have started or are recommending use of Rapid SMS“, because “the large number of centres makes compilation & transmission difficult”. For this reason, moving “towards Rapid SMS to improve transmission” is crucial.

Some of the organizations with promising capacities to design SMS platforms, and helping in fighting malnutrition, are listed here:

– – –

Note that:

the Forum on Community-based Management of Acute Malnutrition will be preparing a more detailed Technical Brief on the subject of M-health and E-health in the coming months.

Feel free to contact the Forum, if you are interested in m-health & nutrition, or in any other aspect related to Community-management of Acute Malnutrition.

– – –

Question: you know any other experience in this area of nutrition and m-health? Worth reporting on this blog? Please, share that: leave a comment (down here), or contact me.

– – –

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