Mali: Mobile service helps bring down infant mortality

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In Coura, a district of Mali's capital Bamako, it's now possible to monitor the health of local infants closely in real time with the launch of a new pilot project dubbed Pesinet. Initiated and funded by Alcatel-Lucent, Fondation Orange Mali, Afrique Initiatives, Medicament Export (Medex) and Kafo Yeredeme, the project aims to provide a preventative medical diagnostic service for infants between 0-5 years, based on regular checks on the childrens' weight gain.

The service is based on weighing the children every week at home twice a week for children under a year by people who are specially trained. These staff members of the service who do the weighing are for the most part local women living in Coura. And the fact that many of the women live locally means that the community feels a strong sense of ownership for the project.

The main job for these local staff is to enter the weights of infants via a Java application on their mobiles. This information is then sent via GPRS to a database used to help the paediatricians of Pesinet to quickly spot those infants that are at risk.

According to Robert Dulery, Director of Medicament Export: "Consistent monitoring of variations of weight is a basic medical service, but itÕs an effective way of detecting a range of illnesses from malnutrition to malaria and it allows the doctor to intervene quickly."

 The "Pesinet ladies" not only register the weight of the child but they also check for four other supplementary symptoms: fever, diarrhoea, coughing and vomiting. All of this information provide alert signals to the Pesinet paediatricians as to whether the infant is in good health or there is a case for immediate medical intervention. But the processes of the project are not simply limited to detection. The service also includes medical consultations and access to medicines. Again according to Robert Dulery "access to medicines is the real value of the service for people."

There are currently 300 subscribers in Coura but the objective of the project is to have 1,200 subscribers by December 2007, the evaluation date for the project. The success of the project will be judged as much on medical as financial criteria. In the medical plan, the medical team are looking for a perceptible drop in the infant mortality rate.

In a similar project rolled out in Saint-Louis in Senegal, the infant mortality rate fell from 120 per thousand to 8 per thousand. In 90% of cases, the symptoms of the disease are easily treated. If the illness is caught quickly, the child will recover quickly.

From the financial point of the view, those behind the project want to achieve a level of 1200-1500 children in order that the project will breakeven and become self-financing. The costs of the project are recovered by revenues generated by subscription charges. This subscription charge is FCFA500 (US$1.05) a month per child that also covers both visits to the doctor and basic medicines.

Alcatel-Lucent and Afrique Initiatives helped launch the project with financial and technical expertise. Medex also contributed financially and provide the necessary medicines during the pilot phase. The La Fondation Orange Mali employed the paediatrician, the "Coura ladies" and supplied eight baby weighing scales and six mobile phones. The evaluation is being carried out by students from ESSEC in Paris, together with a team from "Create an Innovative Product". The Malian association Kafo Yeredeme Ton were responsible for operations on the ground.

Alioune Ndiaye, D-G of Orange Mali and PrŽsident of the Fondation Orange Mali, added :"Supporting projects that are aimed at improving health in Mali are at the heart of our commitment. As a major operator in the region, we are happy to be able to contribute, based on our technologies, a way of reducing infant mortality in a community where we live and work."