RapidSMS: a data gathering platform developed by two UNICEF employees enhances innovation in Africa

An article published on IT News Africa website reports on RapidSMS, a mobile innovation developed by two United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) employees that two years after its introduction, continues to bring about significant change in key regions throughout Africa.

When in 2009 Christopher Fabian and Erica Kochi, two employees of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), developed RapidSMS, a platform for data gathering and group communication using the short messaging system (SMS) on mobile phones, their aim was simply to tackle the problem of slow data transmission within the food security surveillance system in Malawi. Four years later, RapidSMS is touching the lives of millions in many African countries, helping to record births and monitor distribution of mosquito nets in Nigeria, monitor neonatal health in Zambia and track food distribution in the Horn of Africa, among other uses.

Mr. Fabian and Ms. Kochi are now global celebrities. U.S.-based Time magazine included them on its list of 100 most influential people in the world in 2013. “I am proud to be their colleague. This is a great recognition of how the 21st century ideas and tools can transform ordinary people’s lives in an extraordinary way,” says UNICEF’s executive director Anthony Lake.

RapidSMS is a simple tool that helps frontline workers send data through SMS texts to a secure website. Decision-makers—and the public—can monitor such data in real time and determine progress in projects even in remote communities. Where necessary, they can also intervene promptly.

Nigeria, where RapidSMS was deployed in January 2011, registered about 7 million new births by the end of 2012. Birth registrars in 686 local government areas in 33 of its 36 states delivered data through SMS texts to a Internet-based dashboard.  Before 2011, Nigeria could record only half of the country’s 6 million births per year, says UNICEF on its website, adding, “Without a birth certificate, a child is much less likely to get educated, be vaccinated or receive health services.”

RapidSMS’s built-in feedback loop, which provides quick feedback to health workers, for example, on “the nutritional diagnosis of each child based on the data sent in,” makes it an important tool. It helps workers to respond to the needs of each child. Pregnant women in Rwanda and children living with HIV in Zambia consider such quick information about their medical needs a great help.

Read the full article here

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