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Columbia University and UNICEF awarded top honour in USAID innovation competition

Mobile phones adapted to monitor child growth and nutritional status

WASHINGTON D.C., 8 January 2009 – Columbia University and UNICEF received first-prize in the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)’s “Development 2.0 Challenge” for an innovative system designed to adapt commonly accessible technology to better monitor the health and nutritional status of children in Malawi.  

“This is a perfect example of UNICEF’s vision of bringing together experts from around the world and from diverse fields such as academia, private sector and civil society. The aim is to leverage this global knowledge and create solutions which help achieve lasting benefits for children,” says Dr. Sharad Sapra, Director of UNICEF’s Division of Communication.

Six graduate students from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs will work closely with teams from UNICEF to finalize an open-source, “RapidSMS” system that uses basic mobile phones and SMS (text) messages to collect information from health workers and improve the speed and quality of data collection

This data collection will empower the Government of Malawi, UNICEF, and partners to map and track child malnutrition trends around the country more accurately and in real time. This tool will be critical in enabling the government, UNICEF and its partners to respond quickly to rapidly unfolding food and nutritional crises.

The project in Malawi will monitor the nutritional status of children, and build on work done by UNICEF in 2008 in East Africa.  Particularly, the development of the RapidSMS system in Ethiopia which was used for monitoring food supplies using the most basic of mobile phones. 

The initial phases of the Malawi project are expected to run from January to May of 2009.  After a month development and user testing with beneficiaries at three growth monitoring centers (GMCs) the system will be rolled out nationally and cover more than 30 GMCs.  These centers monitor the growth and health of Malawi’s children and act as a first warning system for any increases in malnutrition brought on by food crises.

RapidSMS is a collaborative effort of UNICEF and partners in the Open Mobile Consortium, including Frontline SMS  and Ushahidi, who have used mobile technology to gather data from both local populations and development professionals in emergency situations.

The collaborative and open-source philosophy behind this development means that anyone can take, use and adapt RapidSMS for their purposes – and that when it is time to scale the system to monitor supplies and health data in the rest of Africa there are no licensing fees, and local resources can be leveraged to ensure that the system is adapted appropriately.

UNICEF is on the ground in over 150 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence.  The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS. UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments.

For more information, contact:

Christopher Fabian, UNICEF NY, +212 824 6154, cfabian@unicef.org

Kathryn Donovan, UNICEF NY, + 212 326 7452, kdonovan@unicef.org




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