Nokia’s NFC technology helps fight cholera in Haiti

By: Neil Versel | Mar 2, 2011        

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Nokia 6212 PicNokia, the world’s No. 1 mobile handset maker that somehow hasn’t quite garnered the headlines of Apple or Google, continues to make inroads in mobile healthcare, albeit rather quietly. A post that appeared on the company’s blog Wednesday highlights how near-field communication (NFC) — with Nokia technology, of course — is helping a not-for-profit organization fight cholera in Haiti.

Yes, the situation in Haiti remains dire, more than a year after a deadly earthquake, even though world attention has turned to revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa and natural disasters in Australia and New Zealand. Among the challenges is providing safe drinking water to Haiti’s poverty-stricken population, the vast majority of whom don’t have running water in their homes, according to a Feb. 18 Scientific American article that inspired the Nokia blog post.

According to Nokia, the organization, Deep Springs International (DSI), has provided 35,000 Haitian households with chlorination systems in 5-gallon buckets equipped with RFID chips. The chips are activated whenever a health worker toting an NFC-enabled Nokia 6212 phone visits and passes the phone within a few centimeters of a bucket. Each health worker tests chlorine levels in the buckets, answers a short questionnaire on the phone, then sends results via SMS to DSI’s offices in Léogâne, Haiti, near the epicenter of the January 2010 quake.

The SMS questionnaire replaces paper forms that often take days to reach DSI headquarters. According to Scientific American, DSI picked the 6212, a model that has been around since 2008, since the phone has a long battery life but lacks a touch screen or other advanced features that would make it attractive to would-be thieves.

The Nokia Research Center, based in Palo Alto, Calif., turned to the School of Public Health at the University of California, Berkeley, to develop texting software on the open-source FrontlineSMS platform.

Scientific American reports that DSI judges the effectiveness of the program, called Gadyen Dlo, Haitian Creole for “water guardian,” by how often health workers visit users. “If a family had received a visit, they treated their water,” DSI CEO Michael Ritter told the magazine. “If a family was not visited, it was 50–50 as to whether they treated their water.”

Currently, DSI serves the 35,000 homes with 240 health workers who share just 40 phones, thanks to an initial $10,000 Nokia grant. Nokia says that $24,500 in additional funding from the company will add 100 phones and refine the technology. The handset maker hopes to have 200 phones in the program, supporting 50,000 households, later this year.

The Gadyen Dlo program in some ways augments an International Committee of the Red Cross SMS effort, which MobiHealthNews reported on last October, to send messages to Haitians about preventing and treating cholera. But this represents a more proactive approach to providing clean drinking water.