Last summer, Josh Nesbit, a student of international health and bioethics at Stanford University,  and his friends came up with an interesting system that uses mobile technology in the delivery of health care in low resource settings. This system was first implemented at tiny St. Gabriel’s Hospital in Namitete, Malawi, in order to better serve the quarter million people living in the surrounding 100-mile radius. The system relies on SMS, or text messaging, plus a single laptop using a GSM modem and running FrontlineSMS, a free mass messaging program to non-profits.

Community volunteer health workers, from different areas within the hospital’s catchment area, were given cell phones notched with identifying numbers and loaded with prepaid airtime credit for communicating with the hospital. Some of the volunteers were using cell phones for the very first time. $500 was allocated as the annual budget for messages (10 cents per = 5,000). An administrator manning the laptop back at the hospital could send (or forward) messages to all (or some) of the field workers. The volunteers could report on the condition of patients, or spare a home-care nurse a wasted trip to see a patient who’s not at home. If a volunteer sent a message with a drug name, the system automatically kicked back the correct dosage and other information.

In just six months, 150 patients received emergency care, community health workers saved 1,000 hours of travel time which they used to visit more patients, the number of people being treated for Tuberculosis (TB) doubled, and the hospital saved $3,500 worth of  fuel which was used to purchase medication.


Health workers trained to text message and a nurse responding to an emergency care request -

Motivated by success in Malawi, Nesbit and his friends now want to scale up the project and duplicate it in Bangladesh, Burundi, Honduras, Uganda, Lesotho and additional clinics in Malawi. They need lots of phones in order to achieve this. They need your help to collect phones for clinics and community health workers who need them most. The Hope Phones campaign which was launched last Monday has now collected over 700 phones.

Apart from donating your old phones, you can help by spreading the word, tweeting, emailing to get involved etc. If you’d like to start up a program at your school or workplace, they would also love to hear form you.