Introducing RapidResponse a mHealth Platform built with RapidSMS

July 9, 2009

I’m very proud to announce RapidResponse, a mHealth platform built with RapidSMS.  This is a project that I have been working to develop at the Earth Institute with Professor Vijay Modi in collaboration with UNICEF Innovation team and a number of other partners for the Millennium Villages Project.

The idea for RapidResponse originated from a conversation with Jessica Fanzo, an amazing nutritionist that I am lucky enough to work with. We spoke at length about a program called Community-Based Management of Acute Malnutrition (CMAM) that she was interested in implementing in the Millennium Villages.  At that time, I was increasingly involved with the UNICEF team on the development of RapidSMS. CMAM struck me as a great example of medical system that we could support with technology.  I wanted to avoid the trap of creating a use case around a technology that we were keen to deploy. As a result, RapidResponse was originally designed to provide support for the management of a CMAM program deployed primarily by Community Health Workers (CHWs).   It has since morphed to include support for malaria and diarrhea screening two other major killers of children under five in Africa.

What excites me most about RapidResponse, besides the impact I hope it will have in health, is that it begins to show us the full potential and range of application that an SMS based approach with server-side logic can provide.  RapidResponse is more than just data collection providing decision-tree based diagnosis support, workflow management, and core messaging services. It helps automate and facilitate and coordinate the activities of field based health care staff and supports a powerful alert system that has the potential to help reduce gaps in treatment.

RapidResponse is very much a collaborative effort between a number of groups and individuals who have all contributed tremendously to the progress made thus far. The UNICEF Innovations Team have been fully engaged with this project from the offset and have provided along with many other things generous programming support. Their continued engagement will be key to RapidResponse’s growth.  Also highly influential was the incredible work of a group of SIPA students from Columbia University, who showed that RapidSMS could effectively be used to monitor malnutrition in children in Malawi.   Working closely in particular with Ray Short and Sean Blaschke,  we incorporated the needs of their system and what we were developing for MVP into a single, unified malnutrition monitoring platform.   Special thanks are due to the MVP Health team and in particular to Dr. James Wariero and Saleena Subaiya who provided the on-the-ground insight of the how the system should work.  Jessica Fanzo and Roger Sodjinou, the nutrition and malnutrition treatment experts, provided guidance in developing the system around the CMAM protocol.  Lastly, thanks are due Schuyler Erle and Andy McKay who transformed concepts into code, and the growing RapidSMS open source programmer community who have built the pieces to make all of this possible.

I realize developing a system is meaningless if we can’t show impact.  We are in the initial faces of piloting RapidResponse to support the delivery of CMAM by CHWs in one of our sites in Kenya.  While the pilot is in its early stages, I am encouraged by the initial results that we hope to be able to share through updates in the upcoming months.

In the mean time, our hope is to continue to build RapidResponse as an open mHealth platform that will ultimately enable partners in the field to deliver health services more effectively and efficiently.   Our hope is to build a flexible platform around which a coalition of partners can coalesce and to which they can contribute.  Through the actual implementation of projects in the field, we are hoping to drive resources into the further development and refinement of a system that will benefit all partners.  We envision a system that is flexible enough for any group to customize to their individual use case (there will always be the need) and that will eventually be easy enough to configure (via web interface) that grass route groups or government agencies with limited resources could deploy on their own.   We realize this is a grand vision (and we’re not the first with this aim) but we feel that by taking an open approach we’ve started to put together a solid foundation, both from a technical and partner standpoint, to make this possible.

For a complete technical overview please visit the RapidResponse project page on

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I'm a technologist/geek living in Nairobi, Kenya. I believe open code and data can make the world a better place. Follow me on Twitter;

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