Hyderabad, India serves as the headquarters of the Society for Elimination of Rural Poverty (SERP), a non-profit supported by the Andhra Pradesh state government that uses village-based women’s self-help groups as part of its strategy to alleviate poverty. One dimension of SERP’s strategy entails community managed work on health and nutrition, which is aided by mobile technology.
SERP is a recipient of a mHealth Alliance Innovation Working Group catalytic grant, which supports the United Nations’ Every Woman Every Child movement. To gain a first-hand look at SERP’s work, I visited the team last fall in the village of Rangalpur, about 1.5 hours outside of Hyderabad.
There, SERP has used the existing self-help group to establish a Nutrition and Daycare Center (NDCC). This center provides services for the poorest of the poor, offering three cooked meals a day for pregnant and lactating women, as well as children under age 2. A locally-based health activist selected by members of the self-help group also provides health education, which is supplemented by regular, fixed health and nutrition days where immunizations, malnutrition screenings, and other health services are offered.
While providing health and nutrition services is an old idea, SERP has put a slightly different spin on its projects by focusing on empowering people in villages to demand the health services they need, as well as by emphasizing behavior change over simply providing services.
In 2011, SERP added a mobile reporting component to its operations. The organization worked with Blue Frog design to create a system where health activists can provide a daily report on attendance for meals and health education.
By introducing this technology component, it makes it much simpler to track the program on every level and to easily see who is missing services. This helps ensure that the health activist can reach out to those who aren’t attending meals and education. It also makes the activist more accountable for providing the promised services.
Although the initial rollout was challenging, due largely to illiteracy among many health activists, today 2,800 nutrition centers report via mobile. A total of 79,000 NDCC members have reports registered in the system – in other words, that’s 79,000 mothers and children who SERP can now track to ensure they are receiving the full range of health and nutrition benefits. In Rangalpur, the results have been dramatic. Babies are consistently being born at a healthy birth weight and the number of emergency c-section deliveries has decreased.
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