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Mobile Mandate: UNICEF and frog, Together at Last

Today we’re excited to announce our collaboration with UNICEF as the organization’s lead design and innovation partner on Project Mwana, a major mHealth initiative to improve maternal and infant health and welfare in peri-urban Malawi and rural Zambia.

frog and UNICEF share a common vision for the powerful role that mobile technologies play as an intervention in resource-constrained environments. But we also know that technology alone is not sufficient. These tools must be combined with a deep understanding of the human, social and cultural context and be designed and developed with an open collaboration model. This project is part of frog's Mobile Mandate and is the next step in an ongoing effort towards realizing this vision. Our pilot project, Project Masiluleke, worked with several partners to create a combination of low-cost diagnostic technologies and mobile communication to address the increasing HIV epidemic in South Africa.

UNICEF Innovation has also created a variety of open-source tools that support UNICEF's mission by improving communication and outreach operations both internally and with local governments and partners. One particular platform, RapidSMS, is currently being leveraged to create pilot tools integrated at various points in the healthcare process to more effectively and expediently communicate nutrition information, testing results and resource availability. But, this 'Last Mile' of healthcare delivery is one of the most critical and under-supported elements of most public health programs.

That’s where frog comes in. Our first engagement in this partnership involves sending Kate Canales, Desmond Connolly and myself to travel to Africa for two weeks of contextual research in and around Mansa—a town in Northern Zambia.

We'll be working with a team of developers from UNICEF and other organizations to check on some of these pilots as part of Project Mwana, which is focused on using mobile technology to strengthen health services for mothers and infants. Project Mwana’s pilots focus primarily on early-stage antenatal care for pregnant women (as soon after pregnancy as possible) and immediate & long-term post-natal care. Specific points within these timeframes have been identified as optimal in diagnosing and treating HIV+ mothers to best prevent transmission to their child and ensure their health during the pregnancy and birth.

The immediate goal of this project is to increase mothers' visits to clinics significantly by January 2012 in rural Zambia and peri-urban Malawi by leveraging mobile technologies in innovative ways. The longer-term goal is to develop a communication system that can be scaled across many different countries in partnership with other UNICEF country offices.

We will leverage UNICEF's solid understanding of the Zambian healthcare system and the people within it, as well as their strong relationships with local communities to connect directly with stakeholders (mothers, children, community leaders, etc) both inside and outside of health clinics. While accompanying the UNICEF team and assisting in their research efforts to gain feedback on pilot programs, the frog team will also spend a significant amount of time in villages and communities, understanding the cultural context in which these pilot programs exist.

Stay tuned, as we will be posting our experiences and observations from the field in the coming weeks. Until then, you can watch this video about frog's Mobile Mandate to learn more about how we are using mobile technologies to create a greater social impact.

Images by Merrick Schaefer from his Project Mwana website.