The new program, IAP HealthPhone™, will send hundreds of millions of text messages directly to the phones of women and girls with links to short educational videos from the popular “Poshan” series starring Aamir Khan. The videos share simple, actionable information on how to improve the status of women, the care of pregnant women and children under two, breastfeeding and balanced diets. Women can view or download the videos free of charge and receive a talk time reward worth Rs.10/- for watching all four videos. The videos are sponsored by the Government of India and UNICEF and are available in 18 different languages.
This three-year initiative, the largest of its kind in the world, is a public-private partnership involving the Indian Academy of Pediatrics, the Ministry of Women and Child Development, UNICEF, Aamir Khan, Vodafone and The Mother and Child Health and Education Trust. The program is the brainchild of Nand Wadhwani, Founding Trustee of The Mother and Child Health and Education Trust and a tireless advocate for achieving health improved by directly empowering mothers through education.
“When we educate a mother, we educate a village. By providing her direct access to knowledge we indirectly educate, motivate, empower and inspire the whole community around better health and nutrition practices; healthcare information they need to protect their own health and the health of those for whom they are responsible.” Wadhwani said.
“65 million, or half of all Indian children are chronically malnourished and malnutrition is a major factor in half of the 1.3 million child deaths that occur every year in India”, said Leith Greenslade, Vice Chair of the MDG Health Alliance
. “Recent studies
are showing that more than 4 in 10 young women enter pregnancy underweight and anemic, and this is one of the reasons almost one third of Indian babies are born with low birth weight and at greater risk of newborn death. If we cannot find transformative solutions to India’s nutrition challenges, we cannot achieve global health goals, period,” Greenslade said.
With mobile phone users in India forecast to rise to more than 730 million by 2017, reaching women with basic health education through their mobile phones may well be the most transformative development solution available. For example, if education through phones could persuade more Indian women to breastfeed, the deaths of up to 170,000 children could potentially be prevented. A recent comment in the distinguished medical journal, The Lancet,
called on content providers, mobile phone manufacturers, network operators, application developers, and international health organizations to work together to directly empower citizens in low-resource settings with essential, accessible, actionable health-care knowledge, on their mobile phones which could open up a new chapter in global health.
The IAP HealthPhone initiative is a powerful example of the extended reach possible when governments and civil society work in partnership with the private sector, in this case, Vodafone. Natalie Africa, Senior Director of Private Sector Engagement for Every Woman, Every Child
at the UN Foundation said, “The HealthPhone demonstrates the power of mobile phones as a development tool and how the right partnerships can help achieve the scale and transformational impact so desperately needed.and sought after”.
Not content to rest on reaching 10 million women and girls in three years, Nand Wadhwani has a bigger vision, to equip all frontline health workers in India with a HealthPhone microSD card filled with a library of videos to share with the tens of millions of women, families and communities they serve, as well as to partner with social media giants like Facebook, Twitter and Google to use their exponentially-growing channels to reach more caregivers, both rural and urban in India.
If HealthPhone achieves its promise, and has a marked impact on reducing malnutrition among women and children in India, it will set a new standard in development practice and create a strong case for routinely educating vulnerable girls and mothers about health and nutrition through their mobile phones. Not only could this accelerate achievement of health and development goals across South Asia, but also in sub-Saharan Africa where health challenges are almost as steep as the rise of mobile phone penetration.