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Return to Kampala: Battle of Technologies

March 22, 2010

(Blog Entry for Friday, 3/19/2010; Posted on Monday, 3/22/2010 due to lack of connectivity)

Today, we said goodbye to Gulu and traveled back to Kampala.  After a 5 hour drive, it was bittersweet to leave calm Gulu and return back to the hectic city-life of Kampala.  Yet, we were excited to dive back into our meetings with NGOs, motivated with new questions from our field experience.  We met with two representatives from an organization that aims to control malaria in the country.  They currently have one pilot project working with local government using mobile phones for integrated community case management, collecting basic health information including rapid disease testing and mortality reports.

The difference between this project and previously mentioned projects in Uganda is that this one uses Java phones.  Java phones are more sophisticated compared to typical mobile phones that just receive SMS messages because they have a larger, more interactive screen and internet access.  For this organization, the decision to equip 10 members of the Village Health Team (VHTs) with these more advanced phones for the pilot project came from surveys done based on cost evaluation, coverage, and user-friendliness – the larger screen allows easier and more accurate data input as compared to SMS-based string of letters and numbers.  To solve the problem of electricity use, the project chose phones that can also be solar powered.  While the organization is still working out the quirks (what happens if the phone breaks or is stolen?) for equipping VHTs with Java phones, they believe that the benefits (easier training, more data accuracy, possibility of internet access) far outweighs the costs.

Another interesting discussion that came up during our meeting is the possible fragmentation of this sector as more and more projects are using different mobile technologies and systems for data collection.  Our team has heard the perspective that these projects need to find some common ground and agree on a set of standards, so that later systems or data can be more easily integrated or shared.  In the perspective of this organization, while it is important to form working groups and know what others are doing, the representatives felt that at this stage, it is more advantageous for each project to go out and do their own thing. Ultimately, all of these pilot projects are tests to see what works and what does not.  Allowing these early projects to try different things will provide good evidence for what may be best for future projects, if they choose to be more integrated and standardized.

Overall, another great meeting – this time with a more focused discussion on technologies used and possibility of more system compatible projects in the future.  It has been an exciting week of meetings and discussions, but our team is also looking forward to tomorrow when we can do little bit of exploring in the busy city of Kampala!

Signing off from the land of boda-bodas,

Ruby (Uganda Team)

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