Archive for the ‘mHealth’ Category

Using GPS Data to DELIVER Health Products to People Faster

In Healthcare, mHealth, USAID on April 15, 2014 at 3:46 pm

Andrew Inglis, GIS Team Lead at John Snow, Inc. for the USAID | DELIVER PROJECT, describes how his team used GPS technology to map road networks in Ebonyi State, Nigeria. The USAID | DELIVER PROJECT is funded by USAID.
Imagine driving a delivery truck without a map or any idea how long it will take to get to your destination. The drivers delivering health commodities in Ebonyi State, Nigeria were dealing with this very problem. Existing digital data for the road network contained information on travel speeds for five percent of the roads, and only half of the roads were mapped at all.

This lack of detail on the Ebonyi road network was a major roadblock for the USAID | DELIVER PROJECT. Without this information, it was difficult for logistics teams to estimate how long it would take to travel to facilities and thus how best to schedule deliveries. Additionally, because of the varying quality of roads and conditions between seasons, estimates of travel times and distances were unreliable. Recognizing the importance of addressing this issue, technical and program management teams on the USAID | DELIVER PROJECT put their heads together.

In this collaboration, the teams realized they already had access to the information they needed: in the GPS devices installed in all delivery trucks as a security mechanism. Having GPS coordinates means knowing the exact geographical latitude and longitude of a location, another critical component to streamlining logistics. During delivery runs, trucks with GPS security devices take GPS recordings during set regular intervals when in motion as well as every time the truck’s engine is turned off or started. Starting with the information automatically collected on the GPS devices during delivery runs, the team overlaid these data onto the existing road network data. They then created a new map that essentially “connected the dots” between the existing data and the new data. All that was needed were three GPS coordinates taken from the delivery truck per section of road to calculate an average travel speed. For roads where GPS data could not be collected, the project took information about the road quality (paved, gravel, or dirt), and the location of the road to estimate a travel speed based on similar roads in the nearby area. This method allowed for the doubling of the digital road network in the state.

Figure 1. Original Road Network Map

Now, USAID | DELIVER PROJECT is using this road network and calculated travel speeds to plan delivery routes in Ebonyi State. Using the new digitized road network makes it possible to determine the most optimal route for each truck, reducing travel time and distance traveled. The best part about having this information is that the project staff can predict the day and time that the truck will arrive at each of the 200 health facilities in the state, reducing the chance for stockouts and making it easier for health facility staff to maintain their inventory.

The GPS data provided an additional benefit to the project: it helped confirm the GPS coordinates for 42 health facilities. By using time stamps taken by the GPS devices, Ebonyi State now has exact coordinates for 187 out of the 204 health facilities, and will soon have them for the remaining 17.

Figure 2. Road Network Map with Incorporation of GPS Data

Figure 2. Road Network Map with Incorporation of GPS Data

Using GPS data in this way is a strategy that could easily be adopted by other projects. The USAID |DELIVER PROJECT is currently working to make the digital road network maps available to the public. Making the road network maps and data available to other organizations or government entities working in Ebonyi State would provide the opportunity for them to use the information on travel speeds and road conditions to help streamline their programmatic logistics and delivery systems.

The USAID | DELIVER PROJECT innovates to streamline the process of getting products to patients as dependably and cost effectively as possible. Check back with the USAID | DELIVER PROJECT to learn more as we scale up our GPS mapping in other states of Nigeria, as well as in other partner countries to support USAID objectives and interventions.

Figure 3. DELIVER Staff in Nigeria unload their first delivery run in Ebonyi, January 2013. Photo Credit: Emmanuel Ogwuche

Leveraging Mobile Technology to Improve Health Outcomes

In mHealth on March 1, 2014 at 4:07 pm

Can mHealth programs improve population outcomes in Africa? Leigh Bernstein Reardon, one of our new contributors, thinks it has great potential but cautions that mHealth interventions should undergo indepth evalaution to determine effective and ineffective strategies


Mobile phones are ubiquitous throughout the world. Recent estimates from the United Nations International Telecommunication Union show that there are nearly as many mobile-cellular subscriptions as people in the world, and that mobile-broadband subscriptions are the fastest growing information and communications technology across the globe. The business world has leveraged the amazing growth of mobile technology—and the seemingly endless demand for it—to improve performance by offering consumers countless applications and features that put tools for banking, shopping and socializing at our fingertips. Following suit, the health sector is working to tap into the massive global mobile network to improve access to vital health services and information. Mobile health (mHealth) initiatives are especially promising in Africa where mobile cellular and broadband subscription rates are growing faster than anywhere in the world.

mHealth initiatives have gained particular momentum among maternal and child health practitioners working to combat the estimated 300,000 maternal deaths that occur each year. Such programs can provide life-saving information to women who may otherwise have no access to it, and empower them—and their partners—to make informed decisions about their health. An encouraging example of how mHealth initiatives can lead to enhanced health outcomes is the Grameen Foundation’s MOTECH project. MOTECH is using mobile technology to improve access to quality antenatal and neonatal care in Ghana. According to the project’s website, “[MOTECH’s] Mobile Midwife Application enables pregnant women, new mothers and their families to receive SMS and/or voice messages that provide time-specific information about their pregnancies and childcare each week.” The initiative’s SMS and voice messages provide subscribers with actionable information and advice to help deal with challenges during pregnancy; alerts and reminders for care seeking; and educational information. Since the project’s inception in 2010 more than 20,000 women have been enrolled in the program and are receiving information that can lead to healthier pregnancies and children.

mHealth initiatives, while not a cure-all, can serve as a valuable tool for disseminating important health information and promoting healthy behaviors. In order to maximize the potential impact of the emerging mHealth field, it is essential to invest in the rigorous evaluation of mobile technology programs. This investment will build the evidence base for mHealth interventions, promote the dissemination of findings and lessons learned, and serve as a catalyst for future research and funding for this promising new field.

%d bloggers like this: