Bridging connectivity gaps for better health services

With a new political transition, it may be a good idea for the new government to work on an idea as to how to enable all health workers across the country to have data-enabled smartphones


Photo: Mint
Photo: Mint

If you have no electricity, you can survive despite inconvenience; if you have no pucca house, you still survive on thatched shelters; if you have bad roads, you can still communicate on the patched roads. But if you don’t have sound health, you simply lose your life. That’s what happens in villages of India. The fundamentals of the belief and practice of the principal secretary of health in Madhya Pradesh government are pretty clear on this. Pravir Krishn, the Indian Administrative Service officer, lives every day to bring down the infant and maternal mortality rate down in his state. A culture of health consciousness and communication is being created, where each and every health worker is connected with the health ministry.

There are about 52,000 villages across 51 districts in Madhya Pradesh, consisting of more than 90,000 health workers. The entire community is connected with each other as well as with Krishn on a daily basis. How?

What Krishn has done is that he has created many layers of user groups. Almost all health workers, barring about 13,000, have been provided mobile phone connections, which means 77,000 of them are part of a closed user group. Krishn gets up at 4:30 every morning, and his task for the day is to talk to each of the block-level and district-level health workers in at least 10 districts daily by using Skype and Facebook. The principal secretary’s personal page on Facebook has more than 3,000 followers and the official page, called Team Health MP, has almost 5,000 members.

My conversations with officials related to health in Madhya Pradesh reveal that the 8,000 members of the Facebook pages further connect to around 800,000 people, meaning each member connects for various services to at least 100 citizens. The reason I tend to believe this is because recently in March, 5 million people participated in the Maternal Mortality Cycle Yatra to create awareness among masses.

In the last two years in Madhya Pradesh, the maternal mortality rate has gone down from 310 to 227 per 100,000 live births, and the target in the next two years is to bring it down to 100. To achieve better health for the masses, the health department has developed 12 software applications to monitor and track about 100 government health programmes spread across maternal and child health, immunization, disease control, tuberculosis, supply chain, and forecasting of disease outbreaks, in addition to applications to manage health insurance, drugs and medicines, and community action by accredited social health activists. However, the most significant and community involving effort of the state health department is the use of almost all possible social media applications.

Having connected with almost all the health workers through mobile phones, the health secretary still does not know how many may have been using smartphones. Krishn wants to assume a situation where all 90,000 health workers possess smartphones with at least 2G facilities. He wants real-time interaction where the possibility of content consumption could be not only through SMS, but also video, audio, social media and with rich content. Besides, there is a huge need to have the health workers digitally enabled so that they produce information, meet demand for service, deliver services, and send and access feedback on the go.

With a new political transition, it may be a good idea for the new government to work on an idea as to how to enable all health workers across the country—around 2 million—to have data-enabled smartphones. The purpose shall be that once they have access to these devices, information, content and services will automatically flow to and from the millions.

Osama Manzar is founder and director of Digital Empowerment Foundation and chair of mBillionth Award. He is also a member of the working group for IT for masses at the ministry of communication and information technology. Follow him on Tweeter @osamamanzar

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