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HIFC completes Nokia data gathering pilot in Zimbabwe
Humanitarian Information Facilitation Centre (HIFC)
May 06, 2011

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HIFC recently completed a successful pilot using Nokia handhelds to conduct an investigation into the issue of access to essential medicines among ordinary Zimbabweans.

Though no longer considered to be in a humanitarian crisis but rather in early recovery; Zimbabwe has in the past decade experienced outbreaks the gamut of which is inclusive of the cholera and measles crises of 2008-2009 and 2010 respectively.

Both technological and bureaucratic constraints muddled the communication of accurate and critical information from affected zones to organizations offering humanitarian assistance. For various reasons, humanitarian organizations on the ground were unable to timeously collect and send information; resulting in sometimes catastrophic delays in decision-making and aid assistance. In other cases, hurried or delayed research processes have yielded inaccurate results at a time when diseases were evolving into epidemics.

Recognizing the need for expedient and timely flow of information in times of humanitarian crises, there was need explore faster, more efficient data gathering methods that would make the work of organizations a lot easier as well as prevent needless loss of lives. It is against this background that HIFC with the support of IMS sought to undertake ground-breaking pilot project utilizing Nokia Data Gathering (NDG) software and the technology of mobile telephony to collect, send and analyse data in near real time. NDG is a software system developed by Nokia to replace traditional paper-based questionnaires that allows collection of data using mobile phones.

HIFC is the first organization to pilot this tool in Zimbabwe. In partnership with Community Working Group on Health (CWGH) - a local NGO working in community health - HIFC trained 13 community health monitors on the use of Nokia phones complete with the NDG software for data collection.

The 13 monitors conducted a survey in five districts of the country, administering questionnaires to health workers and patients alike and sending data pertaining to the drug availability status of over 30 health institutions.

Key findings indicate that the problem of shortages of painkillers and drugs for common ailments is widespread across the country and attributable to stock outs possibly related to expiration, non- replacement and pilferage among other reasons. A survey conducted amongst the 13 monitors who participated in the pilot revealed that the NDG tool is a relatively easy technology that can be used across a range of age groups and by any individual who has handled a mobile phone before. Although connectivity was poor in some of the districts, 70% of the monitors were able to send data as soon as they collected it. The fact that data goes straight from the field into a pre-existing database means increased accuracy through elimination of transcription errors and the ability to make informed and prompt responses is enhanced.

The pilot project enabled HIFC to map and collate key information for humanitarian non-governmental organizations (HUNGOs) pertaining to GPRS connectivity status of various districts and the reactions of interviewees and respondents to the use of the new technology. However, the key issue is that the NDG is a practical solution to field data collection bottlenecks related to accuracy, speed of transmission and analysis as well as convenience. Various partners working in the humanitarian sector have already expressed interest and HIFC expects to roll out this service to more HUNGOs this year.

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