Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Utilizing SMS Technology in India

As I stepped out of the plane in Hubli, India, I observed the landscape and was pleasantly surprised by the cool breeze and beautiful sunset that greeted me. As we drove through the city I saw the familiar sights of a developing country: large, developed buildings clustered with haphazardly built structures, dogs and cows aimlessly roaming the streets, and the buzz of crowded streets.

Now having spent a week in Hubli, the sights of the city have become more familiar and I am excited to begin my internship and make a change in this community. My project for the summer will be focused on utilizing a mobile based software that connects the HIV/AIDS community with support groups and clinics in the Hubli-Dharwad region in Karnataka. Specifically, my colleagues and I are implementing the SMS Frontline open source software with the Karnataka Health Promotion Trust (KHPT), the funding agency, and with the Bhoruka Charitable Trust (BCT), the implementation agency. Currently, these two agencies are utilizing the software in two of their projects; the first project is specifically working with high risk communities: female sex workers. The software will allow BCT peer educators to send information about this high risk demographic to BCT for reporting through a SMS message. This will eliminate the inefficient paper system that is currently in place and will more accurately report data from this community. The second application, and what I am most excited about, is the use of the software to contact the HIV/AIDS community directly to provide reminders about health checks and testing as well as support group meeting reminders. There is a lot of potential for this software to streamline a lot of the redundancy within the system and to provide a more accurate snapshot of the number of people within the community who are following up on the recommended health checkups, testing, etc.

The two agencies I will be working with, KHPT and BCT, are amazing NGO's that truly support the implementation of this software. My first encounter with KPHT occurred on the first day after arriving to Hubli. We had a site visit to one of the general clinics and we were greeted by members of the community who are affected/infected by HIV/AIDS which included sex workers, children, and foster parents. The gathering took place under a tree in one of the villages and everyone in the community was so warm and willing to speak with us. Subsequent meetings with KHPT and BCT have also been very positive experiences for me. The staff is very passionate and they have been very helpful with arranging site visits to AIDS/HIV clinics so we get a better understanding of the structure and to familiarize ourselves with the current referral system.

We have a lot of work ahead of us and the challenge is an exciting one. Working in a foreign country presents unique challenges as we have to adapt to local customs and tailor our program to the needs of the community. We are fortunate to be working with great NGO's in the community and our support system is very strong with the help of the Deshpande Foundation. It should be an amazing summer and I know that I will learn a great deal- stay tuned!

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