Last month, I spent 10 days zigzagging across India, stopping in six cities on an unforgettable journey to visit the sites of several projects that the mHealth Alliance supports through our Innovation Working Group catalytic grant program.
Through this program, which is supported by the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation, we provide funding and technical assistance for mobile health (mHealth) projects that aim to improve maternal and child health in low- and middle-income countries. This trip gave us the chance to see some of their work in action.
Sesame Workshop India
Our first stop took us to Uttar Pradesh to connect with one of our newest grantees, Sesame Workshop India. After arriving in the city of Kanpur, we drove for about an hour to reach the “Waqt ki Awaaz” community radio station in the Maitha block of the Kanpur Dehat district. This station broadcasts four times each day and serves a population of 200,000 spread over a 10 kilometer area.
In August, Waqt ki Awaaz began broadcasting educational content on health and nutrition produced by Galli Galli Sim Sim (the name for Sesame Street in India). In addition to broadcasting the content via radio, families can also access it by calling a number that almost immediately calls them back and plays an episode, which teaches them about, for example, hand washing to keep from getting sick.
At the radio station, we talked with a collection of 10 children, the team in charge of running the community radio statio, and Sashwati (Sash) Banerjee, the managing director of Sesame Workshop India. We were also able to visit a nearby school, Prathamik Vidyalay, where the teacher uses Galli Galli Sim Sim content to educate her class. They proudly showed us the “hungry dustbin,” which they created after learning about the importance of properly disposing of garbage.
While we had a delightful time hearing Sash lead the children in songs or talk about their love for the muppet Chamki, the most telling moment of the day came when Sash asked the children if they knew the number to call to hear Galli Galli Sim Sim episodes. Without missing a beat, the entire group broke into a chorus of “0-double 1-double 6-0-3-double 0-8-0.” Moreover, the station managers told us that the kids transfer the knowledge they learn from Galli Galli Sim Sim to the parents who, in turn, become equally eager for the content.
The kids in the village where Waqt ki Awaaz operates were recently given laptops by the government, but there is no Internet connection, and they rarely get used for anything other than watching movies. Some families have radios and television. But virtually every family has a mobile phone, and this means almost every family can access Galli Galli Sim Sim’s important messages simply by dialing 11 digits.
We listened to a young girl explain how she used to miss school because she kept getting sick, but then she started listening to Galli Galli Sim Sim and learned how to stay healthier. Now, she said, she rarely has to miss school and can learn more. This was a powerful example of just what mHealth can mean in the lives of families in some of the poorest parts of the world. It was a compelling reminder of why we champion mHealth as an important solution for global health challenges.