A project with teeth: improving dental health outcomes in the Gambia using FrontlineSMS

A guest blog written byIdris, Tomi and Tosin, students at the Drexel University School of Public Health, who are working to help improve medical health practices in Gambia using FrontlineSMS, and recently attended the Washington, DC training we ran for seven participants over two days.

'As part of our Masters program at Drexel University School of Public Health, we were afforded the opportunity to work on addressing public health concerns in the Gambia for six weeks in summer 2012. We would be working on a community-based masters thesis. Our project focuses on advancing mobile health concerns by improving dental health practices using SMS messaging, as well as enhancingvaccine inventory control at village trekking sites. Health workers could manage referrals, follow-up treatment, and reminders to patients using SMS.

We wanted to equip ourselves with an understanding of available software systems that we could use in our project. After much research, it became apparent that FrontlineSMS was the best fit for our project.

Before coming to the training, our group was a little apprehensive about learning and understanding software. None of us have any formal background in software development, so the conference was a little intimidating when we first came across it. But the workshop was run in a comfortable and creative way, so that we all felt very open to learning. It was really awesome to see people from all fields of international development coming together to learn about and implement FrontlineSMS in varying ways.

What the experience taught us...

We benefited from sharing ideas with staff and participants at the workshop, particularly when developing the implementation method for our project, gaining a professional perspective and getting realistic feedback. The brainstorming sessions helped us to confront challenges that we might otherwise have missed. Although there were lots of opportunities for discussion and idea exchange, we would have loved more time to practice with the software and really test out its features.


The workshop has really benefited our work. We were able to tease out and discard unfeasible options for implementations, and consider other approaches. One issue in particular revolved around phone credit. We realized that compliance with the SMS system could be an issue if users are responsible for purchasing credit (airtime) themselves in order to use the system, so we would have to budget for that. Also, training the person who is going to be manning the FrontlineSMS system was have to be factored in. FrontlineSMS is pretty user-friendly and can be used in many scenarios - but thinking through how to properly set up the system really benefits from proper training.

We have since presented to university faculty and staff, and received great acclaim for our progress. We are looking forward to the actual implementation of our work and to seeing all of our hard work come into fruition.

Thank you!!'

Laura Walker Hudson, who helped run the training, said;

"Idris, Tomi, and Tosin were fantastic participants and their energy and enthusiasm really set the tone for the workshop - even though they’d had the longest journey to get there. Their project, from the start, was a great use case and we spent the two days refining it and thinking about key issues to address, like data integrity, sustainability, and how to roll out the system".

We look forward to seeing how they take their plans forward and hope we’ll get a follow-up post very soon!

FrontlineSMS runs workshops on a pay-per-place basis in Nairobi, London and Washington, DC. Email us to register your interest or request a workshop near you.