FrontlineSMS: The Impact of Open Source Tools for Development

Through Mission 4636, 80,000 earthquake victims throughout Haiti were able to solicit help via text message. What’s most astonishing about the project is not the large number of people it was able to help, but the speed at which it was set into motion. From conception to launch, the Mission 4636 came together in a mere 48 hours. People from 10 organizations from around the world dropped everything to build the best platform possible. Among these organizations was one that caught my eye, Frontline SMS:medic, whose director was responsible for obtaining the short code “4636” for the project.

Frontline SMS:medic is one of many programs that utilizes the FrontlineSMS free software program. Through FrontlineSMS, users can text large groups of people anywhere there is a mobile signal. FrontlineSMS enables instantaneous, two-way communication on a large scale by utilizing computers and mobile phones—two technologies that are available to most NGOs. This means a laptop plugged into a cell phone can become a low-cost communication hub. Frontline SMS makes use of open-source software to support development services across the globe and provides easily implemented solutions to many communication barriers in developing countries.

FrontlineSMS:medic is one of the most successful initiatives of the 5 FrontlineSMS programs (others are credit, learn, legal, and radio).  It utilizes FrontlineSMS to improve and extend healthcare delivery systems by helping health workers communicate, coordinate patient care, and provide diagnostics using appropriate cost-effective technologies. The pilot program was launched in 2009 to great results: in six months, hospital workers saved 1200 hours of follow up time and an accompanying $3000 in motorbike fuel. In less than one year, FrontlineSMS:Medic grew to 1,500 end users who were serviced by clinics seeing approximately 3.5 million other patients. Growing from the first pilot at a single hospital in Malawi, programs were subsequently established in 40% of Malawi’s district hospitals and the software was introduced in nine other countries, including Honduras, Haiti, Uganda, Mali, Kenya, South Africa, Cameroon, India and Bangladesh.

FrontlineSMS demonstrates the importance of building upon and implementing open source tools to serve end users and achieve impact in the field of development. For complete information on FrontlineSMS click here. For complete information on FrontlineSMS:Medic click here.

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