Every year, millions of infants are born malnourished and grow up to be deficient in one important nutrient or another. The gravest tragedy, though, is that their own mothers and families are unaware of these deficiencies and their long term impact. A recently launched mobile initiative has an amazing solution to this.
Kusuma Kumari weighed just 38 kgs when she was pregnant. Though she managed to give birth to a baby boy safely, the child was underweight too. And the biggest problem was that Kusuma didn’t even know that she and her kid were suffering from malnutrition. Assuming skinny to be just her “body type”, Kusuma never paid much attention to her health, which led to a lot of mental and physical weakness in her everyday life.
This is just one example out of millions of women and kids who suffer from malnutrition in India. In a country where 60 million children are underweight and 50 percent child deaths happen due to malnutrition, there sure is an urgent need to come up with a viable solution.
And what could be better than using audio and video in local languages to spread the message? When mobile phones have become such an important part of everyone’s life, even in rural India, utilising them to spread awareness about better health and nutrition just makes so much sense.
A recently launched innovative programme – IAP HealthPhone is doing just that. As part of this programme, four videos called “Poshan”, about various health and nutrition related issues will be sent to Vodafone customers on their mobile phones and, not only this, they will even be incentivised to watch the four videos!
The programme launched by Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi in partnership with HealthPhone, Indian Academy of Pediatrics (IAP), UNICEF, and Vodafone, aims to educate six million women and their families by 2018.
It is the world’s largest digital mass education programme to address malnutrition in women and children.
“The idea germinated a few years ago. Considering the significant role mobile technology can play in addressing social issues, we were looking for ways in which we could use its potential to address some of India’s most pressing challenges relating to education, health, development and access,” says P. Balaji of Vodafone India.
Vodafone subscribers will not pay data charges for watching the videos and get Rs.10 as talk time on their mobile phones after watching all four.
To make the videos more relatable and comprehensive, they will be available in 18 Indian languages.
“I am very, very happy that we have started this venture today. This programme excited me a lot and I wanted the target group to be the women in villages,” said Maneka Gandhi at the launch in New Delhi.
The focus of this programme will be on making women more aware about the importance of breastfeeding and quality care of children under the age of two. The videos will also focus on the importance of a balanced, nutritional diet for both the mother and the child.
“Many women don’t know the importance of the first breastmilk. They aren’t aware of how essential and nutritious it is. We have tried to explain such crucial practices in a simple way through these videos,” says Nand Wadhwani from HealthPhone.
For those women who do not have access to the internet or mobile phones, the videos will be sent to anganwadi workers who will then make them available to the women. All 24 lakh anganwadi workers in the country will have access to these videos.
To make sure that women are watching the videos and remind them about the videos, Vodafone will send out approximately 300 million text messages to its subscribers every year to promote the viewing of these select videos.
In addition to this, the programme aims to create a larger impact through offline campaigns, social media and audio files and make the audio and video files available through micro SD cards for users who have limited access to online resources or have basic phones.
“The Government of Maharashtra has agreed to implement the project’s offline programme by activating the entire state’s network of ASHA, Anganwadi and ANM workers. This template will be replicated in other states throughout India, resulting in the training of every frontline health worker in India and enabling them to introduce the Poshan nutrition videos directly to women and families they serve in their homes and villages,” says Wadhwani.
The three-year campaign by IAP HealthPhone is expected to educate 6 million girls and women by 2018 on better nutrition practices and the signs, consequences and prevention of child malnutrition. It will focus on girls and women between 13 and 35 years of age and their family members. In addition to this, the project will also directly impact the health of over 60 million children in India born before 2025.
What seems like a simple approach to reach out to the masses required a lot of effort in the background. “Since this is such a large project and requires coordination among various stakeholders, the experience has been challenging. We have giants like Government of India, UNICEF, Vodafone and IAP involved. To get everyone on the same page and agree on the same terms required a lot of time, but we are very happy with the outcome. Lessons learned here will allow us to implement future programmes quicker.” says Wadhwani.
UNICEF estimates show that this year around 48 per cent of children in India below the age of five are “chronically undernourished”. Under such dire circumstances, this programme lays a firm foundation and is a major effort to help women and children fight malnutrition.