"I can’t wait to use Mobile Kunji!"
State Project Manager for Odisha, BBC Media Action in India
"I can’t wait to use Mobile Kunji to counsel pregnant women, mothers and families in my village," Jharana Maharang told me as she cradled a deck of Mobile Kunji cards in her hands.
Twenty-eight-year-old Jharana is an ASHA which stands for Accredited Social Health Activist but also means 'hope' in Hindi.
On 23 February, she left her village in Sundergarh district in the eastern Indian state of Odisha to attend the launch of our latest mobile health project in India.
mHealth in action
Jharana, along with 29 other ASHAs from her district, were in the city of Rourkela to be presented with Mobile Kunji, an audio-visual aid that helps health workers to interact with families. It is made up of an interactive voice-response-based mobile service and a printed deck of cards.
The Chief Minister of Odisha Mr Naveen Patnaik presents each health worker with a deck of Mobile Kunji cards.
Each card – designed to look like a mobile phone and held together on a ring – illustrates a key health lesson and also has a unique mobile phone shortcode printed on it.
When a health worker dials the number on their mobile phone, they can play a health message to the family they are visiting, voiced by a friendly but persuasive character called Dr Anita.
"Though we try to counsel women, many times we aren’t always able to persuade them," another ASHA, Mamata Behera, from the district of Khurda told me. "It's as if they are just listening and not hearing," she said.
But with a tool like Mobile Kunji, she said, that will change. It not only builds the health workers' skills and confidence but also helps to engage and convince the family - "especially when Dr Anita speaks to them directly over the phone," Mamata added.
Infant mortality in Odisha is the third highest in India and the death rates for mothers and children under five are higher than the national average.
The tragedy is that most of these deaths are preventable. Frontline health workers like Jharana and Mamata who regularly visit pregnant women and their families play a critical role in delivering life-saving information, accurately and on time.
In addition to Mobile Kunji, BBC Media Action has developed an audio-based training course called Mobile Academy, delivered to health workers through their mobile phones. Call charges and training costs are paid for by the Odisha government and we’re working with them to roll out the course to 55,000 health workers across all 33 districts of Odisha.
"Dialling the phone numbers seem like calling up a magic number, which will give valuable information free of cost to both us and the community," said Basanti Nayak, an ASHA who was part of the training.
Building on success
Odisha is the second state in India to be introduced to Mobile Kunji and Mobile Academy. In 2012, BBC Media Action introduced the two services in Bihar, in northern India where 42,362 health workers have been trained and 5.7 million minutes of Mobile Kunji recordings have been accessed.
We can't wait to see how they’ll be used in Odisha – watch this space.