The Miracle of Mobile Technology In Rural India – Can Pakistan Find Inspiration?

One cannot deny the purity and raw beauty of the rural areas of the subcontinent yet most of these villages are marked with extreme poverty, illiteracy and lack of opportunities. Although internet connectivity has paved its way deeper in many economies, India, however has been lagging considering the size of its economy. Nonetheless, a recent initiative called mSakhi, a mobile app, has changed this situation to a great extent. It is primarily an app that educates expecting mothers in the rural setup about the risks related to maternal and neonatal process. This app is using smart phones and mobile internet to save many lives.

The entire process is carried out by women health workers commonly known as accredited social health activists (ASHAs). The program is funded by Qualcomm Wireless Reach and launched by IntraHealth International.

The impact of mSakhi is enormous as it currently provides assistance to almost 16,000 mothers backed by 329 ASHAs. These numbers are supremely impressive considering it is a mobile internet program in rural areas where people are reluctant to engage in matters of female health in general.

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mSakhi is Targeting Areas Suffering Low Connectivity and Illiteracy

New born mortality rate in India today is at an alarming level of 29 per 1000 live births. The ministry of health is geared up to reduce this number to less than 10. Adding to the whammy, illiteracy rate of girls in India is also a rising concern. As per a paper released by International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity last year, only 48 percent girls in India have been considered literate (i.e. received education till grade 5).

Additionally, lack of internet connectivity is also preventing the government to launch many life improvement programs in rural areas. Only 22 percent Indian adults could go online, according to Pew Research Center poll last year.

Having said that, government is trying its best to get more rural population on the digital bandwagon through its Digital India program. This program is planning to enhance mobile connectivity by connecting more than 40,000 remotes villages by 2018.

Interestingly, mSakhi program is persistently saving lives despite low connectivity as the app stores data into mobile devices and is designed to function even with poor connectivity. Later, as soon as connectivity improves, the data is uploaded on the server.

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The Program is Counseling Mothers and Supporting Nurses

The health workers of mSakhi go out of their way and travel to different villages to examine expecting mothers, registers them, or registers the new born babies. These workers also advise the mothers by using tools in the app (text and images) in order to prevent any mishap in future.

The app also provides necessary support to auxiliary nurse midwives (ANWs) working in the field. These midwives register patients, deliver babies, and vaccinate children. A nurse called Anita VT said that although she works in a small room with few manual tools, she is happy that at least mobile connectivity has reduced her workload.

She expressed her views by stating:

“I can do everything on this. Why should I do it on paper?”

IntraHealth senior adviser of programs, Meenakshi Jain said that msakhi is providing a very cost effective registration process. She further added:

“The government of India has a program across the county where every pregnant mother has to go into an online system. It’s the duty of front line workers like ASHAs and midwives to make this happen. So they have the job of identifying and registering pregnant women. The catch is that they have to fill out forms, and then travel 10-20 km. They have to sit with a data entry operator at a community health center, and then get the data fed into the computer. What mSakhi does is it saves a lot of paper time”

mSakhi is also trying to access the required funding in order to increase the impact of the program. IntraHealth is sharing the results of the program with the government and the donors. Additionally, they are also expecting the government to introduce such technology oriented programs in health and education fields so that multiple issues could be tackled simultaneously.

Technology is Making Micro Finance Speedier

Another milestone achieved with the help of mobile broadband is a revamp of the loan process in rural areas. Making it technology driven has made the entire process more efficient and speedy.

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Planned Social Concern (PSC), a non-for profit organization, extending micro-finance in rural areas has completely revamped its loan-making process and digitized it. The company managed to achieve this in 2014 and has become more transparent as an entity.

The COO of PSC, Ravi Gupta, said that they used 3G connected tablets and a mobile app called MicroLekha. Hence, now they can speed up their activities. He further said:

“When we were doing it [making loans] manually it used to take 17 to 18 days to process a loan. Now with MicroLekha we can place a loan in three to four days. Therefore, they have made the entire process paperless”

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Nonetheless, programs like Digital India need to be pursued aggressively in order to leverage mobile technology for the betterment of India. Since there is a dire need for projects related to education, health, and economic empowerment.

Source: TechCrunch

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