Message Clinic hopes to increase accessibility to health care in rural parts of Tamil Nadu by using an SMS interface connecting to a web server to provide real time information about the scheduled times and locations of the Rural Mobile Health Units that were created created under the Government of India’s multibillion dollar initiative.to bring healthcare access to the 638000 villages and 833 million strong rural population across India.

In the most comprehensive survey ever conducted in villages in Tamil Nadu about the Mobile Health Units, it was found that more than half of all respondents were unaware of the schedule of the Health Units. When asked if they were intimated about the Mobile Health Units’ schedule, 58% of the villagers said ‘No’ while the remaining 48% said yes. Source: http://www.crehs.lshtm.ac.uk/downloads/publications/Mobile_health_units.pdf

Currently there are two means of disseminating information about the schedule of the time at which these Units arrive at various villages: The first is through communication from Personnel on the mobile clinics to the local village leaders who in turn disseminate it to the local villagers. The second is by accessing the National Health Mission Tamil Nadu’s website at http://www.nrhmtn.gov.in/mmu.html

However, clearly neither has been effective enough. The first method is subject to both hearsay and poor verification methods. Finding the relevant information on the website is extremely tedious and hard to find, because of all the several levels of navigation involved. More importantly, the internet penetration in rural India is only around 6%. Therefore, it is clear there is an immense need to disseminate real time, information on demand to rural patients about the various timings and locations of Mobile Health clinics near them. However, despite the poor penetration of Smart phones and Internet in rural areas, a vibrant network of feature cellphones connects a large percentage (almost 40%) of the rural population. These networks support everything from SMS banking operations to SMS agricultural consulting! It therefore makes absolute sense to use this existing cellular network and using an SMS interface, provide timely information on demand of nearby mobile health clinics to fill the lack of information about the schedule of these clinics. This how it works:

A user messages his pincode (the key to identifying nearby health clinics without using GPS ) to the number 5626171. This pincode that indicates the location of the user travels across the mobile network system and reaches a centralized webserver. This PHP webserver receives all the queries and uses the pincode and the official information online to figure out the positions of nearby Mobile Health Clinics for that week, along with the times of operation and replies to the user’s query. Again, using the mobile network system, this information is messaged to feature phones, all in real time! Currently, this service can be tested by texting to ‘5626171’ the message: PIN642127, the locations around Valparai, a block in Coimbatore and effectively solves the problem of lack of information about scheduling of health clinics. However, this service can easily be expanded by simply adding and validating the vast amounts of official data to the webserver. Soon, I hope that this service will be available to the over 63,8000 villages all over India and in all regional languages. Eventually, the wealth of this SMS-webserver information network can be effectively used to extend several other real time health services across India!

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