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Rural health workers in Bangladesh go digital to ensure better access to services

by Plan International | planglobal | Plan International
Thursday, 24 April 2014 16:27 GMT

Health worker Shahanaj Parvin using a computer tablet during a consultation with her patient . Photo credit: Plan International/Mahedul Islam

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* Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

IN a bid to revolutionise the way health information is collected and to facilitate better follow-up services for mothers and babies, community workers in rural Bangladesh have started to use handheld computer tablets during appointments, says children’s charity Plan International.

The initiative, part of the WATCH (Women And Their Children’s Health) project, was established by Plan International and its partner organisation Lamb Hospital. It is anticipated the database stored on the computer tablets will improve access to health services and treatment within the community.

According to Dr Mary Rashid, WATCH project manager for Plan International in Bangladesh:

“The key aim of the WATCH project is to ensure the health needs of women and children in rural communities are prioritised.

“The password-protected database, which will be accessible across the world, will also provide an opportunity for Government and health authorities to follow up access to health services for pregnant mothers and children under five, while donors, INGOs and researchers will be able to view reports generated from the database and track actions about different activities.”

So far, 70 tablet computers have been distributed amongst female health workers in Dinajpur, Bangladesh. The database, which includes health records of mothers and children, as well as the type of facilities available, already includes over 9,000 entries, helping Bangladesh take strides to achieving the Millennium Development Goals of improving maternal health and tackling child mortality at a grassroots level.

The local government is impressed with the initiative so far and has agreed to ensure Wi-Fi networks are available to help community workers with their data collection.

Ahmed Shamim Al Razi, Deputy Commissioner of Dinajpur District, says:

“We are very happy with Plan’s WATCH project and fully support it. In order to combat any connectivity problems, we will seek to put a budget in place to create a Wi-Fi zone.”

As for health workers such as Shahanaj Parvin, 28, the computers tablets have proved a big hit:

“I never thought that I would be operating a tablet PC in a rural area, but I am happy this is now a reality. It has made my job much easier. Before, I had to write up all the notes from my appointments in a register and a diary. When I wanted to access the information, I had to search through the documents and it took a long time,” says Shahanaj.

“Now, these computer tablets let me submit information quickly and allow me to monitor the families who have – and have not – received health services. It means the community is enjoying better access to health services and our patients are well-informed about the state of their health. ”

The project is funded by Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development (DFATD) in Canada.