Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Immunization Rates Rising Using mPhones

The rate of immunization for newborns in the Bangladeshi town Habibganj rose from 60 percent to 85 percent in 2010 thanks to a new mobile phone strategy developed by Bangladesh’s health officer Dr. Amjad Hassain. For his efforts Hossain was awarded the “Vaccination Innovation Award for 2011 from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation with $250,000 in prize money.

The problem in Bangladesh is that it is sometimes difficult to vaccinate all babies at one month. As it turns out, many babies and children in previous years weren’t being registered for four to five months after birth and this resulted in shots not being given on time. Today, vaccinators have mobile phones that they use to track down pregnant women and parents of newborn babies until they are a year old.

Dr Hassain studied the routine immunization programs in two Bangladeshi districts with low immunization rates. He was tasked with immunizing more than 150,000 children against vaccine preventable diseases including diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, polio, and measles. In one year’s time, by using mobile phones there was an increase in immunization coverage by more than 15 percentage points

In another project to help the vaccination program in Bangladesh, the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health announced that Alain Labrique, PhD and Director of the Johns Hopkins University Global mHealth Initiative was a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Challenges Explorations winner for his mTIKKA, a “Virtual Vaccine Registry” research project.

Labrique is going to do further research on “mTIKKA” to develop a mobile cloud system that will be able to help doctors achieve world-wide vaccinations by dispensing vaccine scheduling information.

mTIKKA is designed to focus on the poorest and hardest-to-reach segments of the population. The aim is to identify in real-time regions where vaccine coverage is limited and to permit community-based targeted interventions aimed at increasing immunization coverage.

Labrique and his colleagues at the JiVitA Maternal and Child Health Research Project while working in close partnership with the government of Bangladesh Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and social enterprise partner mPower-Health have also been actively studying the emergence and impact of mobile phones as part of a complex rural health ecosystem.

The researchers are going to pilot test mTIKKA in rural and remote areas in Bangladesh where vaccination coverage is 44 to 60 percent lower than the national average. The researchers will use an electronic, cloud-based system for infant enumeration and registration, vaccination record keeping incentivizing, and provide interactive knowledge on the vaccination program.

In the future, mTIKKA will provide an alternative to tradition record keeping by allowing parents, providers, and vaccination workers access to immunization records 24/7 wherever needed by using simple technology.