Helping women in India with family planning, by SMS
The Institute for Reproductive Health (IRH) of Georgetown University empowers women worldwide by helping them take charge of their reproductive health. In 2001, IRH created a fertility awareness-based family planning method known as the Standard Days Method® (SDM). It’s a straightforward and low-cost method based on avoiding unprotected intercourse on 12 specific days around the middle of a woman’s menstrual cycle. Used correctly, SDM is 95% effective, comparable to other current user-controlled methods for preventing unplanned pregnancy.
Researchers at IRH India’s Country Office felt that an opportunity existed with SMS (mobile phone) text-messaging as a way to directly reach women in need of family planning. Mobile phone use is already high, and growing, in the developing world. A three-phase study was conducted in 2009 in Lucknow, in the states of Uttar Pradesh in India, to see if mobile phone text-messaging would be a viable way to enroll, advise and support women who want to use SDM.
The study showed that help-line support would be important to go along with the text messaging service, which is now called CycleTel. It was also found that couples were willing to pay a small amount each month for the service, necessary to make it sustainable and scalable, both of critical importance to IRH’s objective.
From the Uttar Pradesh results, IRH refined the CycleTel concept and began looking at how to get the product built. With extensive expertise in the medical and sociological aspects of the concept, the IRH team now needed a partner who could not only build the application but who could also help navigate the complex world of Wireless Access Service Providers and the Indian Telcos—all requisite elements to launch the product. Ultimately, at a mHealth conference in late 2010, the IRH team was referred to ThoughtWorks.
With a few meetings over a space of several weeks, team members of ThoughtWorks’ Social Impact Program put together a detailed proposal for the CycleTel project that met all of IRH’s requirements.