Fighting diabetes in India using text messages

Posted on: May 13th, 2013 by Arogya World

This article, by Thea Joselow, head of digital and social media at Arogya World, was originally published on May 10, 2013, as a Sponsor’s Feature in the Bupa Partner Zone on the Guardian Sustainable Business website. Read the original here. 

Reaching one million people with text messages about diabetes, Arogya World is creating a new model for health education and disease prevention

Arogya World’s mDiabetes concept is as simple as its implications are vast. One million consumers from all over India have been enrolled by key partner Nokia to receive a series of 56 text messages on diabetes education and prevention, twice a week, in 12 languages, over the course of six months.

Developed with Emory University to ensure they are based on sound science and behaviour change principles, the messages were reviewed for cultural relevancy and accuracy by Arogya World’s Behavior Change Task Force and pre-tested with consumers. Arogya World is currently evaluating the effectiveness of the programme in bringing about behaviour change known to prevent diabetes.

At the time of writing:

  • All one million consumers have been enrolled in the programme.
  • 185,691 consumers have already completed the six month mDiabetes programme.
  • Over 45m text messages have been sent.

About the Programme

mDiabetes is the flagship project of Arogya World, a US-based nonprofit organisation working to prevent non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and heart disease through proactive health education and lifestyle change. Arogya World is implementing this programme in partnership with several like-minded organizations – Nokia, Emory University, Biocon, Johnson & Johnson, Aetna and Ipsos. The mDiabetes project was formally announced as a Commitment by Arogya World at the 2011 Clinton Global Initiative Meeting.

Why India?

As the home of 60 million people with diabetes, India is at the front line in the fight against the disease. The World Health Organization says that diabetes, heart disease and stroke will cost India $237bn in lost national income between 2005 and 2015. India is a rapidly developing nation, and lifestyle changes including diet and level of physical activity are negatively impacting the health of a growing portion of the population.

“As we look forward, India is going to be a nation of 101 million diabetics in 2030 and has more than 900 million mobile phone users,” says Dr. Sandhya Ramalingam, Arogya World’s head of programme evaluation. “There is compelling clinical evidence that diet and exercise can help prevent diabetes. It is imperative that we motivate consumers to a lead a healthier life and do our bit in disseminating vital information on diabetes prevention to as many people as possible to bring about behavior change.”

Initial results are promising

Initial consumer feedback has been positive – more than 90% said they found the information valuable, and 85% said they would share the messages with friends. A study of the programme’s effectiveness is currently underway and a final report will be delivered at the Clinton Global Initiative conference in September 2013.

A scalable model for disease prevention

“The most exciting thing about our mDiabetes project is not the current initiative but how we are planning to learn and build upon this initial programme,” says Raj Davé, key advisor to Arogya World. “Diabetes prevention through mHealth has the potential to be one of the most cost-effective health interventions available to heath authorities. This potential will only be enhanced in future years as interactive technology becomes more affordable to developing populations and we are better able to target and engage individuals regarding their specific chronic disease risk factors.”

Thanks to the prevalence of mobile phones even in resource-poor settings throughout the world, the mDiabetes model can be easily adapted to different cultures, diseases and goals, putting valuable health and wellness information literally into the hands of the people who can directly benefit. mDiabetes is just a first step to a comprehensive chronic disease prevention model for the developing world, and a high-impact solution in the fight against non-communicable diseases.