In Bihar, where mobile phones outnumber basic goods such as water taps and toilets, the former have emerged as a simple, high-impact solution for improving the survival chances of mothers and babies.
BBC Media Action, the BBC’s international development charity, which, on Friday, released a policy briefing on mobile health (mHealth) “Health on the move: Can mobile phones save lives?” revealed how to set up a sustainable and scalable business model that can reach millions.
Sara Chamberlain, head of ICT, BBC Media Action India, said that in Bihar 83 per cent of women have access to mobile phones, but only 9 per cent have ever sent an SMS. Recognizing limitations faced by mobile phone users in Bihar, such as low
literacy rates, BBC Media Action has used Interactive Voice Response (IVR) to make audio content accessible from any mobile phone via a simple voice call.
BBC Media Action developed mHealth services — Mobile Academy and Mobile Kunji — to equip and train community health workers to communicate life-saving maternal and child health information, and Kilkari to provide families with weekly audio health information linked to a woman’s stage of pregnancy or child’s age, Chamberlain pointed out.
The policy briefing was launched in Delhi on Friday by N K Singh, MP, Rajya Sabha, and Girindre Beeharry, Country Head, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, India. The policy briefing focuses on how one of the greatest engines of innovation in the 21st century, the mobile phone, offers important opportunities for saving lives.
Yvonne MacPherson, Executive Director, BBC Media Action, USA, said, “The policy briefing Health on the move: Can mobile phones save lives? shares the learnings of our large scale mHealth solutions in India and is intended for those who are either using or considering using mobiles to achieve bold health outcomes.” The policy briefing draws on direct experience in Bihar.
Chamberlain added that life-saving health content is now available to the majority of mobile phone subscribers in Bihar — thanks to a significant subsidy from the mobile industry. Airtel, BSNL, Idea, TATA, Reliance and Vodafone have reduced the standard commercial IVR tariff by 90 per cent. Taking a cue from the success of the programme in Bihar, the state governments of Odisha and Uttar Pradesh are collaborating with BBC Media Action to launch the mHealth services in their states.