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| February 25, 2015

Imagining Mobile Enabled Family Planning for Women in India

[Originally posted on UN Foundation’s Global Connection blog here]

This blog is part of the Innovation Working Group mHealth Catalytic Grant series, highlighting the impact of mobile technology on global health and development. Learn more about the 26 mHealth projects funded under the IWG mHealth grants program here

Mobile technology has revolutionized the way the world imagines the delivery of health services. From integrated health records at the village to country level, to mobile coupons to pay for services, technology is replacing old systems with new and more efficient ones.

But this is just the beginning. Using technology to ‘reinvent’ services is still nascent when it comes to the global health space. The Facebooks and Twitters of the world were not incremental developments on pre-existing services in the physical world. Rather, they were made possible by experimenting and expanding the use of technology into whole new categories. The same imagination needs to be applied to improving health care delivery for those who need it most.

With support from the UN Foundation’s IWG mHealth Grants program and USAID, the Institute for Reproductive Health (IRH) at Georgetown University is trying to push the envelope of imagination. In early March, we will be scaling a two-part service with our partners, HCL Ltd Services, who manage an SMS based application on feature phones across India.

The two part service consists of CycleTel™ Humsafar, an SMS service that facilitates the use of the Standard Days Method®, a fertility awareness method using a color-coded string of beads, to bring family planning directly into our user’s hand. IRH has been developing CycleTel Humsafar for the last three years, and evidence on high user acceptability and family planning adherence shows it’s ready for a broader scaled impact.

The second part is CycleTel Family Advice, which is a new fertility awareness information service that aims to present facts through role model conversations relevant to users during their particular life stage. By developing simple algorithms that takes user’s inputs on age, sex and marital status, CycleTel Family Advice shares targeted content with 350,000 users across India in 12 languages. Users can read messages at their convenience and share them with friends or family, as appropriate. Users can learn at their own pace, revisit the content if it was not clear the first time, and/or call a toll free phone number for clarifications.

These CycleTel services are testing if mobile messages can help users gain knowledge about fertility awareness and, in turn, help women and couples adopt family planning – all right on their phone.

This week I’ll be attending the Mobile Learning Week Conference to exchange ideas with others at the forefront of leveraging technology to empower women and girls. I look forward to learning from others – especially those outside of the health space – to better understand how gender transformative mobile content can open doors to changing knowledge, behaviors and norms. I’ll report back next week on highlights and trends uncovered – many, I’m sure, that will include inventing entire new ways of using technology with great imagination.

Charu Chadha works for the Institute of Reproductive Health at Georgetown University. She is currently managing and expanding the India operations for CycleTel – an mHealth service developed and incubated by IRH. Charu has an MBA from the University of Oxford and rich experience in the social enterprise space. She was previously a Shell Foundation Social Entrepreneurship Fellow and an Acumen Regional Fellow


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