Through our Precision Public Health initiative, the Health team traveled to rural Rajasthan in November 2019 with our partner UNICEF, to learn from health workers, community members and local officials about how technology and data analytics can and already are making a difference in delivering more effective health services.

Moving Community Health into the Digital Age

At the Fatehpura Anganwadi Center, one of more than a million such centers in India that deliver early education, health, and nutrition services, we met with Sarla Devi and Manju Vermaboth, auxiliary nurse midwives (ANM); as well as Kanta Devi, an Anganwadi worker who together, oversee the health, nutrition and well-being of nearly 900 local families. The three women showed the team piles of bulky registers that are difficult to carry into the field to conduct routine health surveys for each family.  Thanks to a new smartphone app, launched by the Government of Rajasthan, this data collection is being digitized, and now can easily be managed on a handheld device. Health workers have quickly taken up the new tool and are eager to embrace complete digitization.

Technology That Targets High-Risk Populations

Outside of Jaipur, our team visited Nanchi at her home. Nanchi’s infant daughter was born underweight, weighing only 1.3 kilograms. We saw the impact that digitizing pregnancy- and birth-related data can have on transforming community health in an area where child and maternal mortality rates are extremely high. Handheld software enables Accredited Social Health Activist (ASHA) workers to prioritize high-risk newborns and mothers and provide targeted care and life-saving interventions, including nutrition guidance and post-partum care.

  • Because of the app, I have all of the data in my hand at any given point.
    Sarla Devi
    Auxiliary Nurse Midwife, Fatehpura Anganwadi Center

Data Analytics for Decision-Making

At a primary health center in the village of Kushalpura, the Block Chief Medical Officer shared how maternal and child health data captured by digital technology is enabling timely and evidence-based policy decisions. Internet connectivity and limited smartphone penetration remain critical challenges, but as the infrastructure expands and the mobile-based platforms scale there is potential to accelerate access to care to the most remote parts of the state. In addition, program planners will eventually be able to overlay social factors such as income, food security and education attainment with health parameters to better identify vulnerable populations and focus limited health resources.

This trip was extremely energizing, as it demonstrated to us the potential of Precision Public Health. We were encouraged to see the leadership and innovation shown by the Indian health system in implementing these frontline digital tools and leveraging insights for action. The visit allowed us to learn directly from community health workers, decision-makers and individuals receiving care. Their input will continue to be invaluable as we expand and optimize this work to close the digital health divide.

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