Wednesday, 20 April 2016

RapidPro technology supports UNICEF’s work to vaccinate children

By Kristi Eaton, Communications and Knowledge Management Officer, UNICEF Indonesia

Lilis is nervous. Her 2 and 4-year-old sons are preparing to receive the polio vaccination, and she worries they may cry. The two boys huddle around her as she speaks at a local posyandu in Cilincing, a low-income neighbourhood in north Jakarta, and works to soothe them.

Still, Lilis knows the importance of her sons receiving the vaccination.

“It’s really important for them to receive it so they do not get sick from polio, because their feet can become non-functional,” she said.

Indonesia ranks sixth in the world in the number of unvaccinated or incompletely vaccinated infants. Each year, an estimated 700,000 infants do not receive immunization services. Low-income urban areas like Cilincing are especially at risk for under-immunization, leaving children vulnerable to outbreaks of measles, polio and diphtheria. UNICEF is supporting the government to turn this situation around _ capitalizing on new communication technologies that allow for better monitoring and targeted interventions where existing systems fail.

In places like Cilincing, health workers continue to face challenges because it can be difficult to track and monitor that each child receives the necessary vaccinations. That’s where a new programme comes into play. In 2015, UNICEF started to pilot RapidPro technology, a programme that uses SMS text messaging to collect, monitor and disseminate health information.

Using the RapidPro technology, health managers are able to identify locations of high-risk communities and to verify the monthly vaccine supply at health centres. Tracking infants who missed vaccination doses and sending reminder messages to parents on vaccination schedules is also possible under the RapidPro technology.

“RapidPro is an open-source software platform that enables programme specialists and non- coders to run mobile phone SMS-based monitoring and reporting programmes,” said Jeffrey Hall, UNICEF Indonesia Innovation Lead. “It leverages mobile phone communication technology to accelerate and amplify results for children.”

UNICEF Indonesia’s Innovation Lab works to enhance and encourage youth participation to conceive, create, try out and test creative solutions that can help improve the lives of children and young people in the country.

UNICEF has Innovations Lab in a number of countries around the world now. Indonesia’s lab was started in 2013 with funding from the U.S. Fund’s Next Generation, a group of young leaders, entrepreneurs and innovators in their 20s and 30s who are committed to supporting UNICEF’s work.

A handful of Next Generation members travelled to Indonesia from the United States recently to see up close how the money they helped raise is making lasting change. One of their field visits during the weeklong trip was to Cilincing to watch as the hundreds of children received polio vaccinations.

“Being here in person is the only way to really understand the energy, said Bonner Campbell”, a 25-year-old from Los Angeles, California, who is a senior financial analyst at Netflix. “I decided to visit Indonesia because I wanted to know more about the role of UNICEF in middle-income countries, specifically how it interacts with the government. The work UNICEF does with its partner programmes to advocate for the rights of children is impressive.”