Thoughts from the Last Mile Welcome to the VillageReach Blog
02.09 2015

Smartphone App to Improve Health Assessments of Women and Children in Rural Villages

VillageReach, in collaboration with D-tree, is proud to announce the implementation of a new mHealth application in Malawi. What an exciting partnership! During the first week of February 2015, 25 health surveillance assistants (HSAs), nurses and other health workers in Balaka District received intensive training on smartphone technology and the capabilities of a new maternal and neonatal health (MNH) assessment application developed by D-tree. Using smartphones to improve the assessment of pregnant women and their children will increase access to health care and improve the quality of care provided in rural villages.

The application processes data entered by HSAs such as present health conditions, medical history and other indicators and then calculates the appropriate actions health workers should take. These actions may include administering medication, home remedies or in extreme cases, referring clients to the health facilities. This tool helps community health workers track, assess and treat pregnant women and their children in their communities. Also, by improving health workers’ ability to treat clients in the community, it reduces the burden on the already strained Malawi Health System where there is just one doctor for every 44,000 people and hospitals and medical facilities are few and far between.

D-tree and VillageReach test application
Teaching community health workers how to use smartphones is no easy task. Besides learning the ins and outs of the application, trainees must learn how to use to the phone itself, i.e. control features, interpreting the meaning of the icons, distinguishing between a touchscreen swipe and tap. Mr. Derrick Kachikoti, the Balaka District MNH Coordinator, expressed concern that the time spent learning the new technology will reduce the number of clients health workers are able to see per day. However, in weighing the trade-offs between fewer clients serviced per day and higher quality of care, Mr. Kachikoti would always choose better care. “This new tool will help health workers know what to do out in the community,” Mr. Kachikoti commented.

There are other benefits to using smartphone applications for community based MNH services; it streamlines and expedites the data collection process. A dynamic dashboard aggregates the phone data which are synced in real time. This reduces the time, money and other resources spent on manual, paper-based data collection. Also, decisions made on resource allocation and project focus can be made sooner and with more reliable data.

A dynamic dashboard aggregates the phone data which are synced in real time.

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“Overall, the training was a success,” commented Mr. Saiti Chikwapulo, the Kwitanda Community Health Project Manager for VillageReach. Mr. Chikwapulo facilitated a supplemental training to help health workers understand how to incorporate this new tool into their current daily activities. With time, practice and ongoing technical and supervisory support from both D-tree and VillageReach, the health workers will gain confidence in using the phone and the application. This new tool should prove to help community health workers  improve health outcomes for mothers and their children by increasing their access to immediate quality care.


About the Author

As Program Associate, Jodi-Ann supports the design, implementation, and monitoring and evaluation of VillageReach health systems programs. In addition to previous work in global health, Jodi-Ann brings experience in business management, financial consulting, and organizational efficiency to the health systems team.  She holds a Master of Public Health from the University of Michigan and a Bachelor of Arts in Communications from Boston College.

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Malawi healthcare worker