(This entry was posted by Katy Digovich, Director of Operations at Positive Innovation for the Next Generation (PING). More information on PING’s collaboration with HP is available in the press release here.)
Botswana is a beautiful country known for its stable government and for being one of few African countries blessed with a resource (diamonds) that did not evolve into a curse. Botswana, however, is also a country faced with some glaring health issues. In addition to continuing to struggle with malaria in the northern part of the country, Botswana has the 2nd highest HIV prevalence in the world, the 3rd highest tuberculosis (TB) prevalence, and suffers from a dramatic shortage of nurses, doctors and other health care workers. Seeing these facts first-hand and being a country with a cell phone density of over 140% is what inspired the creation of the locally founded and youth-led Positive Innovation for the Next Generation (or PING).
PING was founded by a group of youth fresh out of undergrad, who worked for 7 months without pay in order to get the organization off the ground. This unique grass roots tech non-profit focuses on creating sustainable projects/programs that can address health and development issues over both the short and long term.
PING's innovative Botswana-based development team builds mobile applications to meet the needs of the local Ministry of Health that result in immediate solutions in areas of patient support, disease surveillance, report collection and analysis and prevention and awareness for HIV/AIDS and numerous other health issues. PING's programmatic team conducts IT mentoring programs with high school and college age local youth to focus on a more long term solution to of building local capacity to continue to monitor and update current systems and design and implement new applications to support the local government.
Besides the Ministry of Health, whose support is vital for rolling projects/services out and making them available on a national level, PING and Botswana have seen huge support from many different stakeholders. Vital support has come from Mascom - the largest telecom in the country that was the first believer in PING and has supported them with massive in-kind donations to all their projects- to USAID/PCI - whose in-country staff helped to teach a group of young college kids how to run a legitimate organization.
The health care environment in Botswana combined with the high cell phone density and all the different stakeholders coming together and committing to mobile health makes Botswana the perfect test country to try out mobile interventions first as a pilot and then to implement these interventions at the national level. The next step involves rolling out the initiatives that were proven cost and health effective in Botswana in additional countries.
HP and PING's partnership is attempting to do just that. The partnership began with an initial disease surveillance project that equips health care workers in the Chobe District with HP Palm Pre 2 smartphones that allow them to submit regular reports back to the Ministry and also report real time disease outbreak data, tag it with a GPS and blast out SMS alerts to all health care workers in the district. This system has taken the reporting and analyzing process, which normally ranged from 3-5 weeks and shortened it to a matter of a few entries on a smartphone and hitting send. Data is now aggregated in real time on the backend, and graphs and reports are generated in a matter of seconds.
Although this project pilot initially focused on Malaria, PING and HP have made plans with MOH to expand it to 15 additional diseases, with multi-drug-resistant TB being the next disease to be added. The eventual goal with this program is for there to be a Palm Pre 2 at every clinic across Botswana with all the health workers in the country using the devices to submit reports to the Ministry, to report real-time disease outbreaks and to follow up with individual cases and screen neighbors utilizing the GPS functionality.
Although it started with one pilot project, the relationship between PING and HP is already growing rapidly, with potential expansion of the current project into additional countries and plans to cooperate on several other projects. This partnership has been able to expand so quickly due to the fact that the HP Office of Social Innovation and PING have many of the same core fundamental goals. These include finding ways for mobile health projects to make business and social sense, making sure that all solutions are proven cost effective and are able to be replicated on a large scale, and a common recognition that with social innovation one cannot just address the technological element but one must address the human capacity building element as well.
HP is not just powering PING from a technical standpoint by simply donating mobile phones, HP is in fact empowering PING by lending expertise, advice, contacts, experience and supporting PING as PING leads the design of the projects based on their experiences from working on the ground. Just as local youth in Botswana are learning IT and business skills from PING, PING staff are learning additional skills from HP and the individuals that work there, including getting insight on new technology and business management. This fact, that the additional knowledge and insight learned by PING staff from HP is then passed on to youth in Botswana that PING works with, is the most powerful and sustainable gift that HP could make.
(image credit: PING)