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Senegal: text messaging helps improve children’s nutrition monitoring

© UNICEF/Senegal/2009/Shryock
Rapid SMS allows a low-cost method to transmit information about children’s health quickly.

Pout, Senegal, 27 April 2010 - A program in rural Senegal finds an efficient and effective way to relay important information.

Of her five children, Diarra Dia says she has been best able to follow and monitor the health of her youngest, Aminata Diouf. 

Aminata has fallen ill less than her older brothers and sisters did at her age, adds her mother, who credits this progress to a UNICEF-sponsored program that uses Rapid SMS text messaging to measure and monitor children’s nutrition, growth and health in Pout, Senegal.

The program enlists community health workers who go door to door and monitor each child’s weight and growth in the village every three months.

A health information system

But the most essential aspect to the new program is that the workers use text messages, which they send just seconds after they weigh and measure the children to a database that is run by the country’s Ministry of Health.

The information they send is stored, so that the next time they weigh the child, they will automatically know if his or her growth is on track, or if they might be having a problem receiving proper nutrition.

This kind of rapid information sharing allows officials to chart the health of the children in the village as a whole, which means they can identify a nutrition problem or shortage of food within the population much quicker and respond swiftly to address the problem before it becomes too embedded. 

This is especially helpful in Senegal, a country that often deals with both heavy dry and rainy seasons each year. As part of the Sahel region, Senegal’s children face a higher risk of confronting food shortages and nutrition crises.

In the country 17% of children under-five years of age are chronically malnourished.

As the workers measure the length of Aminata’s arms and her height, the 3-year-old’s mother recounts how the health workers provide her with helpful advice on her child’s nutrition at community meetings that are part of the program. 

Aminata eats more nutrient-rich meals, including beans, peanut-based foods and milk, than her older siblings did at her age, says Diarra.

© UNICEF/Senegal/2009/Shryock
Community health workers measure a baby as part of a nutrition monitoring program in Senegal.

One of the health workers, Maget Diouf, says she and her co-workers are responsible for more than 1,200 children in three large neighbourhoods in Pout.

Before, health workers were not easily able to track and monitor the growth of these children but now with this low-cost method they can reliably transmit information to officials who can improve services to vulnerable populations, says Maget.

Using text messaging for child survival
"This system allows them to quickly identify problems. If you send the SMS text message, the computer responds automatically to tell you if the child is having nutrition problems, based on previous data."

UNCIEF Senegal plans to scale up this innovative program to reach additional areas that are home to some of the poorest populations, where children are at the highest risk of malnutrition.

Rapid SMS nutrition monitoring enables the Senegalese government and organizations such as UNICEF to identify when these populations might be approaching a dangerous situation in regards to children’s health and nutrition.

And most importantly, it allows them to react quickly before the situation worsens.

By Ricci Shryock




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