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Backpack PLUS Will Empower Community Health Workers

A collaboration between UNICEF, the MDG Health Alliance, and frog

Most children in the developing world will never see a doctor or visit a clinic, relying instead on Community Health Workers (CHWs) who are a critical link in delivering basic healthcare to underserved populations. Every day this dedicated and largely volunteer network of CHWs visit patients, help screen for life-threatening diseases and dispense medication, often with little training or support.

To help CHWs on their “last mile” of healthcare delivery, frog was commissioned by UNICEF and the MDG Health Alliance to develop a concept for a comprehensive toolkit that empowers CHWs to do their job more efficiently. Designed as a holistic ecosystem that reconceives public health strategies as an integrated suite of products and services, Backpack PLUS identifies a systemic solution to meet the daily and long-term needs of CHWs.

The project included extensive field research in Uganda and Senegal with experts and CHWs, and also leveraged the extensive domain expertise of over 60 organizations, including the Gates Foundation, WHO, USAID and BRAC among many others. The insights from these activities revealed the tremendous impact that CHWs have on community health in countries where access can be extremely limited.

Yet CHWs are often hampered in their work by numerous obstacles. They often lack regular training sessions; struggle to have continued access to crucial medical supplies; and tend to suffer from a fragmented data management system. Their crucial role as a provider of healthcare needs is often questioned by the greater healthcare system.  While CHWs receive support from many organizations and public sector heath authorities, our research revealed that the whole system is fragmented and in need of better harmonization.

Backpack PLUS attempts to address the fundamental workflows and needs of CHWs. It transforms a disconnected set of diagnostic tools and medical commodities into a well-orchestrated experience that unifies diagnostics, medication, supplies, job aids, decision support tools and mobile services. Backpack PLUS is unique in that it places CHW’s at the center of the health ecosystem, rather than on the periphery as a marginalized extension of the doctors and nurses that typically receive most of the health investments.

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To help CHWs with the storage and transportation of supplies, which now lacks flexibility and doesn’t support them in various working environments, Backpack PLUS adapts to changing needs. A modular large-sized box designed for long-term storage of supplies at home integrates with a lightweight backpack that has easy-to-reach compartments and pockets for specific tasks such as patient assessment, data reporting and treatment.

Backpack PLUS also addresses the issue of facilitating better communications and the information flow between the CHW and other healthcare stakeholders, including patients and CHW Supervisors. Currently, the data collected and aggregated is often incomplete, resulting in reduced efficiencies and disruption of the supply chain.

In a radical improvement over what is currently available, the Backpack PLUS toolkit includes an integrated set of assets including streamlined assessment tools, registers for patient visits and packages for medicines with disease-specific color-coding and consistent age range indications. Mobile tools can further extend and integrate traditional paper-based information materials. This allows CHWs to upload patient information instead of using paper registers, and receive reminders and restocking alerts. They can also take refresher courses and gain access to educational materials for their communities.

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Wherever CHWs meet patients, the Backpack PLUS toolkit will be easily identified with a unified design language and an iconic logo that will become a quality seal and a tangible expression of the value of CHWs and the essential role they play in their communities. The emblem – as well as the tools – were co-designed with CHWs as part of a participatory design process.

In a broader context, the importance of the Backpack PLUS concept is that it outlines a strategic framework and model – with diagnostic tools, enablers and service elements – that can become a powerful platform to help countries and organizations compare, map and assess existing systems, best practices and interventions.

Recognizing Backpack PLUS as one of the “10 Breakthrough Innovations – That Can Save Women & Children Now” PATH described it as an inexpensive, proven system that could help reduce the annual death toll of 6.9 million mothers and children under the age of five.

CHWs are considered by many to be the biggest untapped resource in global healthcare, and they are increasingly called on to tackle problems ranging from family planning to HIV. The Backpack PLUS ecosystem is designed around the specific needs of Community Health Workers, providing them with the essential tools to be more efficient, provide better quality health care – and ultimately save more lives.

frog

frog is a global design and strategy firm. We transform businesses at scale by creating systems of brand, product and service that deliver a distinctly better experience. We strive to touch hearts and move markets. Our passion is to transform ideas into realities. We partner with clients to anticipate the future, evolve organizations and advance the human experience.

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