My father is from a small, no-name town in desperately underdeveloped central India. Though my father emigrated to the United States over 40 years ago, we still manage to go back to India each year and visit his brothers on their estate in our no-name town. The town has historically only been recognized as the birth place of cinema genius Kishore Kumar or for the massive train junction that is its raison d’etre. More recently, the town and greater district of Khandwa have become infamous for having some of the highest child undernutrition rates in the country at nearly 60% of children under five. I came back to Khandwa as a graduate student seeking answers to such unacceptable malnutrition rates and ended up unpacking the relationship between food security and nutrition outcomes among the tribal population in the district.
Amelia training RMF CNE's in Khandwa
As a Dimagi field manager, I was pleased to learn that we partner with an NGO working in Khandwa on just these sorts of issues. I had the opportunity to visit five districts in the so-called “tribal belt” of south western Madhya Pradesh – from Jhabua to Khandwa – with our partner agency the Real Medicine Foundation (RMF). For the last several years now, RMF has been working to eradicate child undernutrition in the area by employing and training local women from various communities as Community Nutrition Educators (CNE’s).
RMF India Program Manager – Health and Nutrition Pratik Phadkule writes about his experience with CommCare and the challenges of treating Malnutrition in Madhya Pradesh.
Living in an age of extreme technological advancement certainly is a boon for mankind. This technological advancement has helped us in all the fields – communication, space travel, medicine, and engineering. Most importantly, with the help of this, our lives have become so much easier. I think, on this point, no one would disagree.
Two and a half years ago, I realized I had a large challenge in front of me. In order to complete the first step of our program, a baseline survey in 500 villages to determine the exact malnutrition situation we were dealing with, I was going to have to get creative. Sitting in front of me at the New Delhi train station, in heat of well over 100 degrees, were 500 survey books, over 1 ton of paper. I had a train ticket, 50 new workers at a training over 600 miles from where I stood, and 12 hours to get there.
Two of our Community Nutrition Educators learning to use the Commcare mobile phone survey tool
In March 2010, Caitlin and I were driving around Khandwa district on a motorcycle desperately searching for staff to begin operations of our ambitious “Eradicate Malnutrition” program. In our heads, we had a checklist of criteria for potential new staff, mostly focusing on education levels and any experience in the health, nutrition, or NGO sector. As we drove from hamlet to hamlet, over dried streambeds and through fallow, dusty farmland, the checklist was whittled down to one item: literate.
In July of 2011, 5 of our amazing CNEs from Khandwa are now on the cutting edge of technology, helping Microsoft design their Digital Slate technology for data collection in the field. At the same time, the rest of our Khandwa team is collecting information with an application on their phones specifically designed from RMF called Commcare. After a 3 month study, Microsoft Research will publish a paper based on the inputs of our team comparing these solutions to data collection problems. It seems that my initial pessimism, as it so often is, may have been a bit misguided.