Phones used to solve medical issues in Africa


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Three big men on the Stanford campus are even bigger men in the African nations of Malawi and Uganda.

"We hope to save lives. We hope to make clinics run more efficiently. We hope to make the life of the community health worker easier and more efficient," said Frontline SMS Medic co-founder Nadim Mahmud.

Those community healthcare workers currently travel dozens of miles to isolated African villages to see patients -- often lugging boxes of medical records with them. The Stanford students help create a company called Frontline SMS Medic that transforms those paper records into text messages that can quickly be sent from one cellphone to another.

"Paper records can be lost and damaged. The information that you are collecting in the field might not make it back to the sort of higher level medical staff," said software developer Tom Wiltzius.

"Water goes out intermittently, Electricity goes out intermittently, but amazingly everyone's got a cellphone," said Frontline SMS Medic co-founder Lucky Gnasekara.

Malawi is one of Africa's poorest, least developed nations; 85 percent of the people live in rural areas, and most survive on a dollar a day. So the need for the new system became apparent when a fellow student visited the country last year and saw healthcare workers struggling to do their jobs.

"Members of the community fall into HIV, malaria, tuberculosis, diarrheal diseases. They're really trying to take a principled stand and help," said Gnasekara.

They buy new cellphones in-country with basic features, using credits they get from turning in old cellphones in the U.S.. The students say using smartphones would be a waste of time and technology.

"If you recycle that old iPhone through us, we'll generate enough credit to buy 20 new Nokias in country. so this is a way to take one man's junk and turn it into another man's treasure by selling that guy's old junk," said Gnasekara.

The students and their company are trying to bring a similar program to Bangladesh.

Written and produced by Eric Thomas


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