No Joke. There really is an app for saving lives. It just wasn’t created by the folks at Apple. I first learned about Hope Phones from a post over at Pulse + Signal in July, and I decided to dig in to learn more.
In short, the Hope Phones organization was launched in May 2009 to support FrontlineSMS:Medic, a group whose sole mission is to advance healthcare networks in the developing world by building and distributing innovative, appropriate mobile technologies. One example of this project in action is the Mobiles in Malawi program, which provides community health workers and other medical professionals with the phones and software needed to create a network linking patients to care centers in their region. With your help, Hope Phones is able to provide support to life-saving projects in developing countries around the world.
Seeking to learn even more, I reached out to Whitney Ping, Hope Phones’ Volunteer Director of Partnerships. In her role, Whitney is responsible for maintaining, developing and creating partnerships between Hope Phones and organizations, non-profits, corporations and many generous folks interested in reaching out to contribute to the cause.
Since I had Whitney engaged, I decided to send her a few questions that I had about Hope Phones and the software being used to save lives all around the world. Her answers are included below. Fair warning, it’s long but worth reading for anyone interested in health, mHealth (mobile health) and/or saving lives (hopefully that’s everyone!).
How long have you been involved with the organization?
I got involved with Hope Phones just before the start of the summer after meeting up and chatting with Josh Nesbit, co-founder and Executive Director of FrontlineSMS:Medic. Josh is the real go-to-guy for Hope Phones, and I’m happy to be helping out this summer as he is abroad putting our collected phones to work at a Partners In Health clinic in Neno, Malawi and Cameroon.
Describe the relationship between Hope Phones and Frontline SMS. (How long have the groups been partnered? How exactly do you provide support?)
Hope Phones was launched in support of FrontlineSMS:Medic in May. Since FLSMS:M was founded, the response from countries around the world has been tremendous with requests for implementation coming from 30+ countries.
Certainly, the overarching goal is to expand the access to health care and improve the delivery of health care around the globe. By arming community health workers (CHWs) with the Frontline SMS software and cell phones, CHWs are effectively supplied with an increased set of tools and capabilities by allowing the CHW to stay connected to both the clinic and the patient. What this means is that CHWs have access to clinicians, access to hospital resources and information and medical information, can request mobile care units for their patients, have the ability to track or follow-up on patients, etc. The most important benefits of FLSMS:M is that healthcare access and delivery is improved (going back to our goal), and at the same time, it’s worth highlighting the costs saved in fuel, time, and labor before CHWs had this communication infrastructure in place.
Because phones are an absolutely integral part to the FLSMS:M initiative, further implementation of FLMSMS:M simply requires more phones – and this is where Hope Phones fits in! Old or broken phones that are sent in for the Hope Phones collection campaign go to our recycling partner who recycles the phones and provides a monetary value directly to FLSMS:M. This allows us to purchase appropriate phones for FLSMS:M programs, which are typically modest phones that can send and receive text messages. An average old phone, on average, nets a 1:1 return, meaning that an old recycled phone allows us to purchase a new one for FLSMS:M. The average ’off-the-hip’ phone (one that was recently used/retired) nets around a 1:2 return, allowing us to purchase two new phones, while a used BlackBerry or iPhone can get anywhere from a 1:4 to 1:10 return!
To me, I see the Hope Phones campaign as having a two-fold impact; the first, obviously being that the collection of old phones directly improves healthcare in communities around the world, particularly in the developing world; and second, the environment impact of recycling phones is substantial. With the EPA estimating 100 to 150 million cell phones in the US sitting idly, mostly because people don’t know what to do with their old phones, the Hope Phones campaign provides a way for folks to have a positive role in global health and recycle at the same time.
Several projects are highlighted on the Hope Phones website. Are there any that you would say have a truly significant need right now? (Based on the health work or support needed?)
From Josh Nesbit: “All of our partners needed the tools [that FrontlineSMS:Medic and Hope Phones bring] yesterday.” That said, Gitwe Hospital and SSFP (Bangladesh) are a particular focus for the team, as we are on a time crunch to roll out those programs.
Just over 1150 phones have been collected to date. Which countries in Africa and Asia are currently receiving phones for health projects via Hope Phones?
It’s been exciting to see over 1000 phones roll in and counting since Hope Phones was just launched. Thus far, phones collected from our campaign have been distributed to two clinics in Uganda, four hospitals in Malawi, and a hospital in Honduras. In the next month or so, collected ‘Hope Phones’ will be in the hands of community health workers in Rwanda, Burundi, and Bangladesh.
Aside from collecting phones, is there anything we can do to support the cause?
Donating an old phone or phones is so helpful, and I think the way we’ve streamlined it makes it a pretty easy process (simply go onto www.hopephones.org and print a free shipping label and stick your phone in the mail!). Starting a local collection campaign is even more helpful, and we’re excited to have launched the page that allows people to request a free collection kit. Beyond that, spreading the word about Hope Phones and FLSMS:M to friends, family members, colleagues, etc goes a long way. Obviously, this can be done via word of mouth, but also through social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. We have pages on both – become a fan of Facebook of friend on Twitter (www.twitter.com/hopephones).
Any new developments we should be on the lookout for in 2009?
We’re very appreciative and excited about partnerships that are being cultivated as we speak. One of the most exciting in my mind is the partnership we have with FACE AIDS (faceaids.org), the national student campaign to fight AIDS. FACE AIDS has a tremendous platform and influence among college students across the country with over 190 student chapters, and so we feel fortunate to be able to link up with them, as this partnership will have a huge impact for our clinical partners, as well as our ability to expand. We’re also pleased to see a great response from companies like McKesson that have signed on or are expressing interest in recycling and promoting global healthcare efforts via Hope Phones.
Aside from the partnerships, the FLSMS:M team is continuing to seek innovative ways for cell phones to serve healthcare purposes. One that I think is particularly awesome is this post on Desh Medic which details the ability to use the cell phones as a diagnostic device! As you can see (and hopefully as I’ve recounted), the potential for Hope Phones and FLSMS:M is enormous, and we’re motivated to work hard to see it through.