Innovative mobile services on course to deliver profits and health gains at scale

Feb 26, 2013, 06:41 ET from BBC Media Action

LONDON, Feb. 26, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- BBC Media Action in India has developed a public-private business model for mobile health (mHealth) services that is on track to reach millions of the country's poorest people with life-saving information on maternal and child health over the next three years.

The services are available in Bihar, India, at the same low rates across the state's main operators. They are some of the first mHealth education services for low-income subscribers in the world to launch at scale, and with built-in sustainability.

Sara Chamberlain, head of ICT in India for the BBC's international development charity, says that more than three million minutes of content have been accessed in Bihar over eight months. Providers including Airtel, Reliance and Vodafone are seeing profit despite the services' low-income target group.

From the GSMA Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Chamberlain says:

"In Bihar, almost all 15-49 year olds have access to a mobile phone. We struck a deal with the mobile industry and state government to develop mHealth services that are priced for the bottom of the pyramid, and can be used from any handset by making a simple phone call. That's how we have been able to get around the challenge of low literacy and limited technical ability, and go quickly to scale."

"The government wants to help improve the health of mothers and their babies, and the mobile operators want to see a return on their investment. With close to one hundred thousand unique users accessing millions of minutes of audio content, they're already achieving that and this helps secure sustainability for the services."

The services, Mobile Academy and Mobile Kunji, were launched in May 2012 as part of a Gates Foundation-funded programme to tackle high maternal and child mortality in the state. Nearly 2 million minutes of content were accessed to January 2013 on the Mobile Academy training course for Bihar's 200,000 community health workers, and 1.56 million minutes accessed on the Mobile Kunji service that helps the health workers deliver crucial health information to the mothers that they counsel, and their families.

Both services use Interactive Voice Response (IVR) to make audio content available to even the most basic handsets. They are accessed via a set of short codes, common across all the major mobile operators in Bihar, and common tariffs, which are some of the lowest in the country. Health workers pay around $1.50 over as many as 12 months to complete the training course. The Gates Foundation is covering the cost of calls to the Toll Free Mobile Kunji service for the first year, with the state government pledging to pick up the tab from mid-2013.

Despite major economic growth, India still has some of the world's highest maternal and child mortality rates, and poor access to healthcare and information in many areas. BBC Media Action in India is already preparing to launch in the state of Odisha and is in discussions with the national government about rolling the services out across the northern states'

Chamberlain will present at the GSMA Mobile World Congress session on innovating for global health and as part of a panel on the Pan African Mobile Initiative (PAMI) at the Sub-Saharan Africa Regional Summit on Wednesday 27th, outlining the crucial elements to the model's success: making the services affordable, user-friendly and accessible from any handset, localising content and working with public and private partners to secure sustainability.

The model and Bihar case study are outlined in a new BBC Media Action briefing Health on the move: Can mobile phones save lives?

Notes to editors

  • Sara Chamberlain is head of ICT for BBC Media Action in India. She will discuss the business model for the services at the Sub-Saharan Africa Regional Summit, Wednesday 27 February 2013, Auditorium 2, Hall 8.0, Fira Gran Via, Barcelona, 11:45 – 12:25 and Health: Innovating for Global Health which will take place on Weds 27 February from 16.00-17.30 at Auditorium 4, Conference Village, Hall 4
  • BBC Media Action is the BBC's charity for international development. It believes in the power of media and communication to help reduce poverty and support people in understanding their rights. Its aim is to inform, connect and empower people around the world. We work in partnership to provide access to useful, timely, reliable information. It aims to help people make sense of events, engage in dialogue, and take action to improve their lives.
  • BBC Media Action is an independent charity funded by external grants and voluntary contributions, mainly from the UK's Department for International Development (DFID), the European Union, UN agencies and charitable foundations. Registered charity number: 1076235. For more information visit
  • In May 2010, the Government of Bihar and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation signed a memorandum of cooperation to develop, test and scale up innovative solutions to improve the health and development of Bihar's families.  The partnership aims to help the government of Bihar to reduce mortality rates for mothers, newborns, infants and children under five.This effort is being implemented in partnership with Indian and international non-government organizations, and is called "Ananya", a word meaning "unique" and "boundless" in Sanskrit.
  • OnMobile Global Ltd is BBC Media Action's technology platform provider – responsible for giving mobile consumers access to BBC Media Action's IVR applications and content. OnMobile's platform has been integrated with MOTECH – an open source software for delivering mobile health messaging, developed by the Grameen Foundation, with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

SOURCE BBC Media Action