Karen Cheng, FitBaby Co-Principal Investigator, University of California, Irvine
One of the things I love about our project and the other Project Health Design projects is the creative use of cell phones to collect data and share health information. Cell phones have so much potential to expand access to health care for people who, for any number of reasons (e.g., lack of health insurance, distance to a health facility, unsure when it is appropriate to go see a doctor), might have limited access.
I recently learned of an organization operating in the West African country of Mali that uses some of the same methods we use in FitBaby. Like our project, Pesinet is committed to the early detection and prevention of illnesses among babies and young children. The similarities between our projects show the power of mobile technology to improve health for children around the world. The differences highlight the stark contrasts between our problems and needs here in the U.S. and the problems and needs in West Africa.
FitBaby focuses on infants who are highly at risk for long-term chronic illness because they were born pre-term. Pesinet works with infants and young children (up to age five, 20 percent of whom do not live to see their fifth birthdays) in Mali — almost all are high-risk because of the poverty and lack of health care in the country.
Both projects use cell phones to record health information about the children and then transmit the data via the cellular network to a central database, where health care professionals can access the data and review it for concerns. In the FitBaby project, we offer smartphones to parents so that they can record weight, diaper use, fussiness and other ODLs in the convenience of their homes. Parents can use the data to help determine if they should contact a health care provider about their baby’s health. A nurse case manager may also contact parents if she or he is concerned about the baby’s health indicators. Pesinet sends trained health care workers to families’ homes weekly to assess weight, diarrhea, fever, vomiting and cough (learn more). The health care workers use a cell phone to record data, transmit the data to a central health facility and receive feedback about whether the family should take the child in for further medical evaluation.
I find it thrilling that cell phones can be used in similar ways all around the world to serve the health needs of babies and young children. Best wishes to the folks at Pesinet! May your work be successful in improving the health of thousands of babies in Mali!