25-year-old Mumbai techie develops app that help mothers remember when to vaccinate kids

Updated: Nov 26, 2017, 16:38 IST | Kusumita Das

25-year-old techie develops a web-based app to help mothers in slums remember when to vaccinate their children

In a paradigm shift in the field of public healthcare for underprivileged families, a 25-year-old Mumbaikar has developed an app that will offer mothers living in slums timely reminders to vaccinate their children. The brainwave for the app came to Swati Humbad, an employee with global financial services firm Morgan Stanley, around two years ago, when she was volunteering for an NGO called SNEHA, which works towards women and child healthcare. "I used to go for field visits to the slums of Malwani as a technology volunteer, trying to identify areas of improvement there. During one such visit, I came across a mother, who could not remember the birth date of her own child," recalled Humbad. "It struck me that if she cannot remember her child's birthday, how would she remember the vaccination schedules?" she added.

That is how the idea for FollowApp was born. The web-based application has been designed in such a manner that it works on any basic mobile phone. "In the slums you may not have your own bathroom, but you definitely have access to a phone. From our research, we found out that most families have two mobile phones. The man of the house takes one along when he goes for work, while the other remains at home," Humbad said. She and the team at SNEHA created a database of the numbers, names of the mothers, and the names and birth dates of their children. The app is coded to make personalised calls to the registered numbers, wherein the message is delivered in a vernacular language, addressed to the concerned mother and her child. "The message plays on loop, where the mother is asked if she has vaccinated the child. You
have to Press 1 for yes and 2 for no," she said.

It was crucial for Humbad and her team to have a feedback mechanism in place. "The calls are made thrice — seven days before and after the vaccine date, and on the vaccine date itself. If we don't get a response from the mother, we ask health workers to go and personally meet them," she added. The prototype of the app was ready last year, and the pilot version ran this year, from May to September. The response rate, Humbad said, has gone from 10 per cent to the current 40 per cent. As of now, over 500 mothers are registered on FollowApp. "Initially, some mothers were hesitant. We ran an educative programme through health workers explaining how it would benefit them. There have been a few learnings along the way. Earlier, we used to run the calls at 9.30 am. Later, we realised that this is a busy time for the mothers, so now, the calls are made at noon, when they have some time at hand."

The five-member team, including Humbad, work out of Mumbai, Bengaluru and Montreal offices of Morgan Stanley. "We are now aiming to take the app to more slums in Mumbai. Our next stop is Dharavi, following which we want to spread to Bengaluru as well," she said. The plan is also to share the data with government authorities to improve public healthcare. "We have the vaccine status for each child for each disease and each dose. That data can help identify which disease is prevalent in which region. Also, since the government organises health camps and vaccination drives, this data can help them decide how much inventory is required for each camp."

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