Mobile technology for Disease Surveillance

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In a previous post, we highlighted the importance of data, and the inherent flaw in collecting data through paper forms. We also suggested that technology can improve the integrity and timeliness of data.

Real world application – tackling Dengue

The past couple of months have seen a rise in the number of dengue cases in Delhi. Given the sheer size of a city like Delhi, disseminating civic agencies to every nook and corner, in equal measure, is neither feasible nor useful.

The most affected localities would take a higher priority and need a higher number of resources. Identifying such areas through traditional data gathering tools will result in data which is likely to be too late.

What is required in such a scenario is a tool through which accurate data can be captured and analysed in near real time.

Mapping diseases in real time
Mapping diseases in real time

Imagine if diseases were reported as soon as they were diagnosed, and each diagnosis could be displayed as a pin on a map. The more the number of cases, the higher the number of pins. A locality with a high concentration of pins will draw attention immediately, thus making it easy to identify where resources need to be deployed urgently.

Enter HealthWatch.

HealthWatch is a disease surveillance platform for capturing real-time data about the spread of diseases and visualization of the data captured.

With domain expertise provided by St. Stephen’s hospital, HealthWatch was designed to replace the existing system of data gathering used in the Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme.

The HealthWatch platform (pilot in Delhi-NCR) consists of 2 parts:

a smart phone app
a map-based analytics dashboard

Doctors can use the App to report diseases as they diagnose them. Each disease and associated symptoms are mapped to the doctor’s location. Data obtained through the App is aggregated and presented in real-time on a map for healthcare professionals to identify vulnerable areas and take appropriate measures to manage the spread of diseases.

Read more about the HealthWatch platform here.

Become rich by designing products for the poor?

Earlier this year, Amit Gulati, who runs Incubis Consultants, invited me to participate in an interactive session to think through design ideas for a low-cost washing machine. The workshop brought out some very interesting and fascinating ‘ways of seeing’ that completely overturned the engineering / tech / product way of approaching design problems. Did we need to redesign the washing machine (Product) under stricter constraints [this is the way most people think – start with an existing product, strip it of features, use cheaper materials and processes, reduce quality and make it low-cost], or did we need to go up a level and reframe the problem itself.

Orbits of Influence

 

Image Courtesy: Incubis Consultants 2013.

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In the old days — as recently as the dying years of the last century — technology was trying to keep up with our needs. But instead of playing catch up, its pace overtook our needs. In the end, technology, especially those products that were powered by the silicon chip, won the race. Today we have more technology than we need and yet, rather than using what already exists to solve societal problems, we still go after creating more and more technology for the narrowest part of the pyramid — the top. Continue reading Become rich by designing products for the poor?

Social Apps – the small ideas, BIG Difference

We hope you had an opportunity to read our previous post on Social Apps. Carrying on from there, we thought we’d share with you some examples of Social Apps (apps using new-age digital technology and mobile apps to offer aid for emergency situations or Social causes) we came across and really liked.

These are three examples in three very different contexts. What qualifies them to be a part of this list together is that they are simple and relevant enough to make you wonder – “Hey why didn’t I think of that?!” – and have the potential to really make a difference. Or as we like to call it – #smallideasBIGDIFFERENCE.

So without further ado …

1. The Casserole Club

Arguably most might think that sharing food with those who can afford to order it out does not qualify as a Social Cause. But the potential of this idea combined with its simplicity is what makes it a part of this list. In their own words –

Casserole helps people share extra portions of home cooked food with others in their area who might not always be able to cook for themselves.

Casserole was born out of a desire to help bring communities together. There are a lot of people cooking food and many others who would greatly appreciate a home cooked meal. Our goal is to connect the two.

You can read up more on their website – http://www.casseroleclub.com/about. How it works is, you simply update whatever you’re cooking for the day on their website. The site builds up a menu of the various food updates for the day and anyone looking for a home-cooked meal can take their pick and order from the site. Eliminates food wastage and helps people staying away from home get a simple home-cooked meal. If this isn’t a neat Social App idea, then what is! If you’re from India you can just imagine the potential of something like this for the thousands staying by themselves away from home and craving “Maa ke haath ka khaana” – Mom-made food!

[Incidentally and its funny how these things work – came across this tweet just before posting this article :-) ]

2. Notfound.org

Another very simple and very brilliant idea. Which site does not after all serve up a 404-page every once in a while. And when there is no way you can control that, why not at least donate your 404 page for a greater good and donate it to notfound.org!

Across the European Union, thousands of children go missing every year. Thanks to the NotFound project, you can make a difference. Install our application and a picture of a missing child automatically gets published on every ‘page not found’ of your website.

The idea can be extended to so many different social causes. Wish it were applicable in India too. We would’ve gladly donated our 404 page! Dear Satyamev Jayate team, are you listening?!

3. Babajob.com

This one is a start-up operating right out of our own country – India – where understandably the need is greater. A focused job portal aiming to connect people from the middle and lower income group with employers looking for trustworthy, qualified workers. Job information in the informal sector usually spreads through word-of-mouth and technology intervention here helps job seekers find out about jobs they could not have known about otherwise and for employers to increase their range of finding trustworthy workforce. A great idea which helps people from lower strata of society find livelihood and improve their living standards!

Babajob.com is a web and mobile start-up dedicated to bringing better job opportunities to the informal job sector (cooks, maids, security guards, office helpers, etc.) by appropriately connecting the right employers and job seekers via the web, mobile apps, SMS, the mobile web and voice services.

Babajob was born as an experiment by Sean Blagsvedt, his step-father Ira Weise and Microsoft colleague Vibhore Goyal, to leverage the web, the mobile and social networks to accelerate the escape from poverty. It is an experiment — a possible solution to provide all levels of job seekers more with job opportunities while efficiently helping employers find suitable employees.

One look at their site though and you can see people using the site even for some more main-stream jobs like Sales and Marketing. The site provides a mix of web and mobile technology with ample human intervention to enable even the uneducated. We have not used the service ourselves yet but do plan to whenever we have a suitable opening and urge you to do the same. Do share your experience with us.

There are also other sites like “Rozgar Duniya“, “Village Naukri” and “Rojgar Mantra” we came across that help people from villages or Rural India look for employment.

[Translations for non-hindi speaking readers – Rozgar/Rojgar means Employment ; Naukri means Job ; Duniya is World]

Do let us know what you think about these ideas and share with us any other that you came across and found interesting or are working on yourself. We’d love to know more about them! We are especially interested in ideas where smart phones and smart apps are innovatively being used to provide help in the social sector.

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Social Apps

Quick! A show of hands to see how many of you thought this was yet another post about yet another Social Media app? All of you?! Thought as much. Unfortunately, even a search on Google for “Social Apps” reveals a lot of Social Media apps and not any that matched our understanding of the term – Apps that can help / provide enablement to help with Social Causes.

The idea came to our CEO, Sunil Malhotra while watching the Satyamev Jayate episodes – Why isn’t anyone thinking of mobile solutions for the social sector?

Which obviously led to the question – Is someone thinking about Mobile solutions that can help?

Why Mobile?

Mobile phones are becoming the common man’s computer – available with all of us wherever we go and keeping us always connected – could they be used to empower the Social sector?

What is it about mobility solutions that make them perfect tools to become a vehicle of aid?

1. Their pervasiveness – in developing countries like India basic feature phones have managed to reach even into the rural areas.

A glimpse at the mobile market in India. (source: http://ibnlive.in.com/news/india-cellular-market-booms-but-not-for-operators/125678-11.html)

2. It’s a personal device and available with us wherever we go. In an emergency we naturally reach for our phones.

3. Simplicity of use – “ stripped of complex menus and navigation and even your kids have figured out how to use your phone better than you.

And just the basic fact that mobile solutions and smart phones have triggered everybody’s imagination and resulted in brilliant innovative ideas that touch every aspect of our life.

Let’s see some examples …

Close at the heels of the Satyamev Jayate episodes was the very unfortunate incident of the Guwahati molestation case. There was huge outrage and a lot of people expressed their anger and frustration, some through blog posts. Amidst all the outrage it was quite pleasant to see there was a sane voice of a young software engineer Shantanu (goes by @tantanoo on twitter) who wrote this post http://tantanoo.com/random-rants/2012/07/aftermath/ . In this post he explores ideas about how technology could come to the rescue in such situations. What stood out for me is that he peeks outside the proverbial box, into other boxes and draws parallels from the likes of natural defense mechanisms in the animal kingdom, from ongoing research in the Department of Defense and other apps developed across the globe (apparently there are quite a few of them out there!).

For example he talks about how maybe on the trigger of a button, the phone could shriek out loudly on your behalf (because let’s admit it, in most situations when we are caught off guard, though we do believe we need to raise our voice, we are not able to) or emit a smell so offensive (like a skunk does when its attacked) that the attacker is stunned. Do go through his post. Highly recommended.

It’s also heartening to see that someone has already made the first move in India. An Indian non-profit organization WhyPoll has launched a smart app called “Fight Back” which can help women fight sexual assault. The app lets women immediately alert friends and family if they feel threatened via SMS, email or facebook and they can in turn reach out to help or alert police who make help available faster. Similar apps are available and functional outside India too but its good to see someone make a move in the positive direction in our country too. The app and service I believe is currently available in Delhi and NCR only. Maybe a little more concerted effort is needed even from our authorities to recognize the value of such an initiative and roll it out country-wide.

First Smart App from India to help women reach out for help in case of a threat.

There were many such issues raised by the team of Satyamev Jayate – that are close to all of our hearts and we all feel something should be done about it. I am sure there are many ways in which technology and design thinking can come together in crafting effective solutions to address these malice. Much like pointed out in Shantanu’s post, a little out-of-the-box thinking is required, taking into account real-life scenarios and borrowing ideas from the life around us.  We would love to hear from you if you have any such interesting ideas or know of any Smart App ideas that have been / are being implemented in the Social sector. The iron is hot thanks to efforts like Satyamev Jayate. Let’s not let the fire die down!

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