IT-backed project for mother and child welfare

Mysore Nov. 9. The Unicef is likely to finance a pilot project in the district for improving the health of the mother and child in rural areas with the help of information technology.

The project, Sisu Samrakshak, will be patterned after a similar exercise in West Godavari District of Andhra Pradesh. IT kiosks providing latest information on issues related to women's health, child development, post natal care, and so on will be set up under it. The project has got approval in principle, and the authorities are fine-tuning the proposal to meet the local requirements.

Sources in the zilla panchayat told The Hindu that a panel of experts from various medical fields had discussed the common questions posed by rural women on heath issues and the anticipated supplementary questions, and framed a set of answers that would dispel their doubts. The kiosks to be set up initially in a few villages that were relatively backward in healthcare will be easily accessible. At the touch of a button, the screen will provide information with pictorial representations to help reinforce an idea.

"Women are shy of posing embarrassing questions and hence prefer to suffer in silence rather than seek medical advise during pregnancy and childbirth. The kiosks will help dispel their doubts without any embarrassment'', sources said.

The project is likely to be dovetailed into the existing health infrastructure. Anganwadi workers are expected to play a crucial role in its success. The health workers in rural areas will also benefit from the project, as they will have easy access to information. Also, Internet connectivity will help them access latest developments and information related to the health of the mother and child.

The information needs of the targeted community are to be presented in a succinct manner richly illustrated with graphics and pictures. The audiovisual approach needs multimedia technology. The hardware component includes palmtops or simputers. There will be information dissemination acquisition centres (IDACs), each of which will have a desktop supporting the operating system, database, application software, networking equipment, a printer, and a UPS with battery backup. The data acquisition module captures the information relating to various attributes of the mother and child, and is essentially a pictorial and voice presentation of the questionnaire. The use of handheld devices will be encouraged since data pertaining to the mother and child will be collected by the anganwadi workers at the field level and transmitted from remote areas. It is also envisaged to establish call centres to help integrate and implement the support systems and enhance the quality of services through IT. The call centres are likely to be equipped with servers, modems to access IDACs, telephone facilities for helpdesks, other software tools for operating systems, database management, and so on.

Explaining the rationale of the project, sources said the Unicef believed in interventions in the critical periods of a child's development when the external environment had the maximum influence on its personality development. Interventions at an early stage helped a child achieve its full potential, and this necessitated ensuring a reduction in illness at an early age by creating awareness and disseminating information to would-be mothers on issues related to health and sanitation.

While Karnataka fared relatively well on gender and health indices, there were large pockets in the State where the local indices were lower than the State and national average. Though the infant mortality rate had declined over the past few decades in the State, there was a perceived rural-urban disparity. While the urban infant mortality rate was estimated to be 25 per 1,000, the rural rate was 70 per 1,000.

The UNICEF has cited latest scientific researches that prove that investments made in critical areas of health during the early years of a child determine a nation's productivity and growth. The IT-backed support systems are expected to provide an overall thrust to rural and community health once the project is commissioned.

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